Economics/Class Relations

How the Taxi Workers Won

By Molly Crabapple, The Nation

The 45 days of fierce protest, shrewd organizing, and ferocious solidarity that ended the debt nightmare that had engulfed the taxi industry.

On September 19, a group of cab drivers organized by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance rolled up to the corner of Broadway and Murray Street in downtown Manhattan, parked next to City Hall, and declared they would not leave until the city fixed the crushing debt that had driven many of their fellow drivers to suicide. They held a press conference, hung an SOS banner from the nearby Beaux-Arts subway entrance, set up some folding chairs, and sat down to wait.

I stopped by the encampment at midnight to find eight drivers trading jokes on the lonely concrete of the Financial District. Augustine Tang invited me to join them. Thirty-seven years old, with the characteristic swagger of a native New Yorker, Tang had inherited his father’s taxi medallion—the badge that gives cabbies the right to operate—along with $530,000 of debt. He was one of the group’s most eloquent spokespeople and also one of the youngest. His companions were all older, men who had spent decades behind the wheel—like Mohammed Islam, from Bangladesh, who owed $536,000, and “Big John” Asmah, from Ghana, who owed $700,000. At an age when many people are contemplating retirement, these drivers instead faced a future of 14-hour workdays that would bring them no closer to freedom as well as harrowing financial burdens they would pass on to their kids.


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