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TAXI DRIVERS, VENDORS, STUDENTS

NYC Mayor Giuliani's attacks ignite new movement

By Milt Neidenberg
New York

It's the beginning of a fight-back movement.

For three weeks now, taxi drivers of over 80 nationalities, proud of their cultural heritages, have been waging a heroic struggle against Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his Wall Street cronies.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance initiated three one-day strikes. Drivers forced the courts to allow a motorcade despite the mayor's determination to stop it.

On May 21, the motorcade and the second one-day strike brought together hundreds of drivers. They poured into lower Manhattan and surrounded the Taxi & Limousine Commission during a public hearing at which the commission planned to impose 17 arbitrary and punitive regulations demanded by Giuliani.

The TLC was so shaken up that it went into secret session to pass 15 of them-even though state law prohibits secret decisions during public hearings.

State court appeals to overturn the regulations have been filed.

The mayor has tried to provoke, intimidate, inflame and prejudice the public against the drivers. Giuliani and his police commissioner have called the drivers "taxi terrorists." The drivers have displayed incredible stamina and courage in fighting these racist, immigrant-bashing and anti-worker tactics.

During the demonstrations, Giuliani's deployment of police would have made the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff proud. It was calculated to bring the drivers to their knees. And it failed.

Unity grows

Unity between taxi and livery drivers has set Giuliani back. The livery drivers, primarily Black and Latino, refused to scab-although the mayor tried to bribe them by saying they could pick up passengers throughout the city during the one-day cab strikes. These drivers, too, have many grievances against the mayor.

The taxi drivers are now regrouping and preparing for the next stage of the struggle.

After the taxi strikes came a one-day strike by food venders over Giuliani's attack on their right to earn a living. Once again the issue was immigrant bashing and racism against a multinational work force.

Students of color from the city colleges have also been demonstrating against the mayor's attack on open admissions and remedial classes.

Hospital workers from the State, County and Municipal Employees Local 420 have been in the forefront of the anti-Giuliani movement. They are fighting layoffs and cuts in city health services.

Does Giuliani really expect to get away with his attacks on workers, the poor, those on workfare and students, primarily from the oppressed nationalities? His actions are uniting them all.

Sections of the labor leadership, particularly the public sector unions, are feeling rank-and-file pressure to get involved. Giuliani had given them a job-security guarantee, but that will expire on June 30.

There is growing potential for a major confrontation with the mayor and his big-business supporters. Giuliani's overkill against 45,000 taxi drivers will speed up the process. It brought forth a powerful response: from those who lease cabs from the fleet owners, from owner-drivers who lease the precious medallions, and from driver-medallion owners.

Over 30 years ago, intolerable conditions unleashed militant clashes between taxi drivers and the powerful fleet owners. It was 1965, and all hell broke loose. When the fleets sent out scab cabs, strikers overturned and burned them. They blocked streets and avenues. They picketed, demonstrated and marched.

Determined to improve their wages, benefits and working hours, they forced the National Labor Relations Board to recognize their right to organize a union. This awakened the New York Central Labor Council, which then organized Local 3036.

In 1979, fleet owners, bankers and investment brokers joined forces to set up mini-fleets. Drivers were encouraged to borrow money to buy their own medallions. The promise was that if they owned medallions, they would be bosses just like fleet owners. It was the downfall of Local 3036, which wholeheartedly endorsed the plan.

Divisions between those who worked for the fleets and those who owned medallions were created. For the next 20 years, the drivers were captive to the industry bosses.

The struggle went downhill. Until now.

Restructuring for profit

Giuliani has now embarked on a course that will eliminate thousands of jobs. In collusion with Wall Street, he is determined to restructure the entire $4 billion taxi industry in one fell swoop.

To assure continued profit growth, the big capitalists need to deepen the exploitation of the drivers. The TLC's 17 oppressive new regulations mean to do this through downsizing and layoffs. It's no different from the restructuring started two decades ago by the corporations and Wall Street.

Giuliani and his Wall Street bosses think there are too many drivers and too many medallions. The bankers and investment brokers know that drivers who paid $250,000 and more to buy a medallion are overwhelmingly in debt. They intend to force them out of business and take back the precious medallions at bargain prices.

The fleet owners will come down even harder on lease drivers, who own neither cab nor medallion. These drivers must pay the owners at least $100 a shift and buy gas before they can pocket a nickel.

They make up most of the work force. They take home around $250 a week for seven 12-hour days.

One of the new regulations will raise traffic violation fines to $1,000. This and other repressive measures will force the lease drivers out of the industry.

What makes Giuliani take on the taxi workers at the same time he is attacking students, community gardens, artists and booksellers who work in the street, disabled women and others?

The mayor has higher political aspirations. His immigrant-bashing, his racist attacks on students and street youths of color, workfare workers and the working poor, have made him the darling of the racist, anti-worker, right-wing national constituencies.

So he and his big-business cronies have lit the fire of struggle. Their haste and arrogance is awakening a fight-back movement that unites New York's diverse working-class communities.

(Copyright Workers World Service: Permission to reprint granted if source is cited. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY,NY 10011; via e-mail: [email protected]. For subscription info send message to:[email protected]. Web: http://www.workers.org)

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