Wednesday, December 9, 2009

New York City Taxi Workers Alliance

250 Fifth Avenue, Suite 310. New York, NY.

The New York City Taxi Workers Alliance was founded to protect one of the city’s most forgotten labor groups: cabbies. Although not an official union, it works to ensure fair labor rights of New York City cab drivers and offers them legal support. Founded in 1998, it has grown to a size of over 11,000 drivers by successfully drawing on various grassroots organizing campaigns. Its most effective tool has been their efficiency in carrying out a number of strikes, most of which have been extremely successful in calling attention to their conditions. Indeed, cab drivers work in some of the worst environments in New York City. Most work 12 hour shifts, seven days a week, with no sick time, paid time off, or paid holidays. Many have their already small wages cut by an exploitative lease system. In addition, they face the everyday threats associated with driving a cab in New York City including police targeting and being victimized by racial violence. We chose this site because of their success in organizing such an ethnically and linguistically diverse group. Also, it is a relatively forgotten industry when one thinks of blatant human rights and labor violations.

Although a racially targeted group before, the events of 9/11 saw a drastic turn in the scale and incidents of racial violence towards cab drivers. Such occurrences also took on new dimensions. They became not only racially motivated, but took on a certain “anti-immigrant” connotation as well. Many drivers were harassed on a daily basis, being accused of being a “terrorist”, or told to “go back to your country” (Mathew). Many of these hate crimes go unreported, and even less end up in court. To spend a day in court for a cabbie, means to give up a day’s wages, a fact that many cannot afford. The Alliance has been instrumental in not only raising awareness of racial injustice and targeting, but also educating their members and other drivers about their rights.

Many of the hate crime instigators identify with the concept of “vigilantism”. Vigilantism is the act carried out by informal networks or nonofficial individuals who adopt a radical and violent approach to when they deem as intrusions. Groups such as the Minutemen target illegal immigrants attempting to cross the Southern US-Mexico border. By being cast as “Other”, or “Immigrant” or “Terrorist” these drivers are racially stereotyped and subjugated in their working environment. They are targeted by police who fine them for punitive violations or fail to act accordingly when cases of violence by passengers are reported. The majority of cab drivers are first generation immigrants of color, with 60% hailing from India, Bangladesh, or Pakistan. However, in recent years, the industry has seen more and more immigrants from the Caribbean beginning to lease their own cars. Although as a group, more than a dozen languages are spoken, they have managed to effectively organize. Nationality and ethnic differences are not treated as though they do not exist, yet the Alliance has been able to transcend such differences and appeal to drivers’ commonalities and a shared identity.

- Titilayo Derricotte and Aubrey Markson


Hing, Bill Ong. “Vigilante Racism: The De-Americanization of Immigrant America”. Michigan Journal of Race and Law. Vol. 7. Spring 2002.

Mathew, Biju. Taxi!: Cabs and Capitalism in New York City. New Press. 2005.

Melwani, Lavina. “Hate Crimes Against Indians”. Little India. 12 December 2008.

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