New York Times: Chinese Cab Drivers Take to Song to Call for Their Own Company

15 April 2015

China Labour Bulletin is quoted in the following article. Copyright remains with the original publisher.


To protest their working conditions, a group of about 30 taxi drivers from northeastern China drank pesticide on a central Beijing shopping street on April 4. The men survived after being sent to local hospitals, the police said.

In the town of Xiangtan in Hunan Province, another group of cabdrivers took up a less hazardous means of protest after the government sought to reorganize the local taxi licensing system: They recorded a song.

Aside from showing that they may be better suited to transportation than entertainment, the video seeks to raise support for the drivers in their dispute with the local government. Last year, the Xiangtan authorities sought to increase control over individual taxi license owners by forcing them to join cab companies. Such companies have long angered cabdrivers in China, who say they extract exploitative fees but provide few benefits, forcing them to work long hours for little pay. They also face increasing competition from unregistered “black cabs” and a growing number of drivers who use ride-hailing apps such as Didi, Kuaidi and, in major cities, the American-based service Uber.

In response to the moves by Xiangtan’s government, about 50 of the city’s 326 private taxi operators decided to form their own company, the Xiangtan United Taxi Company, and elect their own management. In an open letter the drivers accused the local government of acting in conjunction with management companies to thwart the effort to establish a driver-owned company. Zhu Bailing, one of the drivers, said in a telephone interview that the process of forming the company was continuing and that the drivers still had not received a license or final approval for their plan from the Xiangtan authorities.

The local government said last year that it sought greater control over private cab owners because of widespread complaints about taxi service, including drivers refusing to pick up passengers or use meters. Mr. Zhu said that while such problems exist, they aren’t widespread. “Drivers aren’t all the same quality,” he said. “But those bad drivers don’t represent everyone.”

Strikes by taxi drivers and other transportation workers are widespread in China. China Labour Bulletin, a nongovernmental organization based in Hong Kong that first documented the Xiangtan drivers’ campaign, has tallied more than 630 transportation strikes, mostly by cabdrivers, over the past four years.

“There have been attempts by drivers to get organized, mainly in informal ways,” said Geoffrey Crothall of China Labour Bulletin. “You can tell by the number of strikes and protests that happen all over country. They come in waves and spurts, but drivers are connected with each other. In terms of forming their own company, this is a new development. It’s quite an innovative and creative response to a government initiative.”

The drivers’ anthem is titled “Dream of the Taxi Driver,” an unsubtle nod to the Chinese Dream concept espoused by President Xi Jinping. The video shows images of Xiangtan drivers, messages of support from elsewhere in the country, and protests by the Xiangtan cabbies and others, including the drivers from Heilongjiang Province who drank poison in Beijing.

Here’s a rough translation of the lyrics:

Thirty years of the driver’s life see how many dreams?
Hands on the wheel, foot on the gas, just to provide for one’s family.
Drivers work day and night to move mountains.
No matter how bitter, or how tired, it’s tough to follow the dream.
Same life, same fate,
Through such adversity we struggle.
Same vicissitudes, same calamity,
Against future difficulties, we will strive together.
Hand in hand we will walk forward defending our rights,
And let the world know we are all drivers.

Follow Austin Ramzy on Twitter at @austinramzy.

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