Cablegate: Guangzhou Taxi Strike: Collective Bargaining, Taxi Style


DE RUEHGZ #0714 3430912
R 080912Z DEC 08




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Guangzhou Taxi Strike: Collective Bargaining, Taxi Style

1. Summary: Though downplayed by the official media as "taking a day
off" or "having tea," Guangzhou's taxi strike was accompanied by
rumors of violence and fear of physical danger. Drivers willing to
risk retribution from colleagues found working during the strike
lucrative, while others, ordered to work but fearful of retribution,
reportedly passed the time playing cards. Taxi drivers and
government leaders alike probably viewed Bo Xilai's peaceful
meetings with Chongqing's striking taxi drivers in November as a
precedent for handling the strike in Guangzhou. End summary.

2. Taxis were scarce December 1, when, according to Reuters, 4,000
of Guangzhou's 18,000 taxis refused to work and demanded a fee
reduction by the government. Though characterized by the official
media as peaceful and lackadaisical, scuffles between taxi drivers
and police a week earlier and rumors of isolated violence between
cabbies during the strike suggested this was more than a tea party.
The government, which simultaneously launched a campaign against
illegal taxis, avoided a prolonged strike by reducing the monthly
taxi rental fee by RMB 500 (approximately USD 73) and eliminating a
RMB 300 (approximately USD 44) monthly parking fee. Some taxi
drivers subsequently complained that the concessions were too
meager, noting that the fee reductions would defray only a small
part of the more than RMB 10,000 (approximately USD 1455) in total
monthly taxi fees they faced, according to China Daily.

Running the Gauntlet a Lucrative Endeavor

3. Drivers unwilling to go on "holiday" feared retribution at the
hands of striking colleagues, according to multiple drivers. One
driver with the Bai Yun Taxi Company refused to take passengers
through slow-moving streets, insisting instead on keeping to
Guangzhou's elevated highways to reduce the chance of being seen and
punished by striking drivers. In an effort to camouflage his taxi's
working status, another driver with the Guang Jun Taxi Company
started the meter, then placed a cardboard sign reading "out of
service" in its place. One taxi driver told a Consulate contact
that some colleagues were requiring passengers to lie on the floor
of the car "like dogs" to avoid being spotted.

4. A dearth of taxis made for a sellers' market. Two drivers on
separate occasions claimed to have made the equivalent of several
days' income in fares during the time of highest demand. Even with
demand far exceeding the supply of taxis, we did not hear of or
experience any cases of price gouging -- drivers simply engaged the
meter as usual.

5. Ordered to work, but fearful of retribution from striking
drivers, many employees of the Guang Jun Taxi Company reportedly
drove to Guangzhou's Pazhou district, parked and played cards to
pass the time, according to a Consulate contact, who described the
parking lot of one of Guangzhou's semiannual trade fair sites
partially filled with taxis and drivers -- huddled in numerous
groups -- playing games.

A New Model?

6. Local cabbies are acutely aware of government concerns about
maintaining social stability and the current political will to spend
money to that end -- instead of relying solely on police crackdowns.
One labor researcher said that Chongqing party secretary and
politburo member Bo Xilai opened the door to peacefully resolving
the most recent series of taxi strikes by meeting publicly with
representatives of the drivers. The researcher added that taxi
drivers elsewhere had been emboldened to follow the example of their
Chongqing counterparts, while other local governments had followed
Bo Xilai's lead.


7. The Guangzhou strike was well timed; the peaceful resolution of
similar strikes in other cities put pressure on the Guangzhou
government to negotiate with the strikers, while the extraction of
financial concessions was made easier due to official readiness to
trade money for social stability. As local treasuries become
increasingly strapped for cash, the willingness to negotiate in lieu
of ordering police crackdowns will likely diminish, especially in
poorer municipalities.


© Scoop Media

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