Tom Stamm Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

T. Stamm

Significance of Taxi Drivers’ Strike Analyzed

(February 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 7, 10 February 1934, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The signal for working class struggle sounded by the general strike of New York hotel workers has found a stirring response in the strike of the New York taxi drivers. Already in the first week of its stormy career it has given the working class of New York and the country an inspiring demonstration of working class militancy. In its staccato language of speed, action, and solidarity can be heard the authentic voice of the proletariat. Consider it! Here were men horribly exploited, unorganized, a prey of politicians, racketeers and crooks, without traditions of trade union struggle or even the most elementary understanding of the class struggle. Notwithstanding, within a week, in the fire of struggle, they forged a union which embraces almost half the drivers in the industry.

The basis for the strike is to be found in the miserable conditions of the taxi drivers: a weekly average wage of ten to twelve dollars; twelve hour shifts and more; some men worked the “Coolie” shift – twenty-four hours a day, sleeping at the wheel; failure to bring in a minimum resulting in discharge; the black list; and, finally, the five cent tax cutting into their tips.

The strike received a certain stimulus from LaGuardia, when he offered not to appeal the decision of the Supreme Court of New York declaring the five-cent tax on all rides illegal, if the cab company owners would turn over to the men all the tax money collected up to the time of the court’s decision and held in escrow pending the decision. The companies refused LaGuardia’s offer and made a substitute offer of only forty percent. The men felt that all of the money belonged to them as the tax really came out of their tips. In their view LaGuardia was with them and the companies against them.

When LaGuardia saw the torrent he attempted to unload responsibility before his own bourgeois and petty bourgeois supporters and hamstring the movement. He advised the men to affiliate with the A.F. of L. and made efforts to secure the intervention of Green himself. As a result of his “help” Gailbraith of the A.F. of L. Philadelphia Taximen’s Union was sent to New York as general organizer of the strike.

At the same time LaGuardia called in Morris L. Ernst of the American Civil Liberties Union to act as mediator. Ernst arranged a number of meetings. The fruit of his efforts was a “settlement” which said nothing about the recognition of the union, minimum wages or maximum hours. In addition the proposed distribution of the accumulated tax money was unsatisfactory. The men voted down this “settlement” and demonstrated what they thought of it on the streets against the scab drivers.

But the nub of the boss strategy was the attempt to use the independents to divide the ranks. An Independent is the owner-driver of one cab. The five-cent tax question did not affect them as it went into their pockets. They are likewise indifferent to the hours and wage question. In short they are petty bourgeois individualists. Consequently they were and are eager to reap the harvest of fares that they saw when the company drivers went on strike. Terminals and piers reserved to the company cabs by contract were now inviting them to come in and render “service to the public”. The independents offered to pay two dollars apiece a day into the treasury of the union if the union would agree to their working.

But the strikers saw through this scheme. They realized that if the independents were out on the streets that would be a powerful lever in the hands of the bosses to break the strike. They sacrificed the money and voted for “no cabs on the streets.” And forthwith they repaired to the streets to translate the vote into reality.

It is not clear exactly how the Socialist Panken got into the strike and how he became one of its spokesmen. But one thing is certain; he is a partner to the latest perfidious sell-out arranged by LaGuardia, Ernst and some people on the Committee of Thirteen which conducted the negotiations for the strikers. The terms of the sell-out are the worst imaginable. The question of union recognition which has became the crucial one in the strike is not even mentioned. The wages and hours question is ignored. The accumulated tax money is referred to the future for distribution. The men get absolutely nothing.

Before this maneuver was put over on the men they tried to spread the strike to other sectors of transportation. They chose the bus drivers and conductors of the Fifth Ave. buses as the point of attack.

The strike has already recorded positive gains for the taxi men and the entire labor movement. It stiffened the morale of the hotel strikers, and it has helped their strike to the extent that it has made it difficult for most and impossible for some diners to reach the hotels. It has set an inspiring example of working class militancy and will undoubtedly be an impetus to other workers to struggle against their intolerable conditions. And what is of paramount importance for the taxi drivers; win or lose they will come out of this strike with a union. We are also sure of another thing. This strike of the taxi drivers will not be the last.

Tom Stamm Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 9 February 2016