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on May 15, 2005
"Taxi!" tells the story of the organization in the last ten years of a successful labor union - though never recognized officially as such - by NYC cab drivers. There had been an official AFL-CIO union but its leadership had (in the 70s) sold out the drivers coming into the industry in return for pennies for oldtimers, and a dues check-off. The union gave in to the corrupt local Democratic politicians who helped taxi "brokers" legalize a "leasing" system in which drivers make a daily cash "lease" payment before they can start work.

Under the daily "lease" system drivers as they set out each day have to make over $100 before they earn anything for themselves. In bad weather and traffic they can work 12 hour days for nothing. But supposedly they are "independent contractors" and so labor laws don't apply. By the 90s almost all the drivers were working under this kind of peonage. Subject to ever increasing levels of harassment by Giuliani's police, the many drivers with Islamic names were then hit full on with the pogrom atmosphere that followed 9/11.

Biju Mathew tells how the drivers collectively organized strikes (the AFL-CIO taxi union being moribund actually helped - all the drivers had to do was not enter into a "lease" that day!), organized legal services to contest rip-offs from brokers and racist harassment from the Giuliani administration, and organized to get their voices heard in New York City local politics. These immigrant drivers come from Egypt, Haiti, India, and Pakistan, and in the process of struggle overcame the divisions that have been used to set one against another. For anyone sick at heart over the impotence of US labor unions, it's a great, and heartening, read.
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on November 2, 2006
In the end, this book wasn't what I hoped it would be, but was still worth the read. As a cabbie in Boston, I picked this up hoping to get a feel for the cab business in NY. And as a history buff, I was particularly interested in the promise of a good back-story. Unfortunately, there's very little history here. Despite the book's extensive footnotes section, most of the "history" comes from the memories of a few old-time drivers, and is generally concerned with settling grudges and exposing exploitation. In addition, this book reads like a doctoral thesis in hardcover. "White middle class suburbanites" get almost as much page time as the immigrant drivers. And there's barely a word about the interesting job these drivers have, instead the focus is on their place as it relates to globalization, exploitation of Third World labor, and "neoliberal economic practices." Not exactly what I thought I was getting into.

That being said, even though I'm in Boston and not New York, I can safely say that the subjects of Mr. Mathew's book are not exaggerating, and the tale he tells is true at its core - driving a cab is a tough job, and the driver has to dodge the brokers, the cops, the city and the frequently abusive passengers just to make a basic wage. If you're looking for some scholarly views on the function of immigrant labor in cities, strategies for labor organizing in a diverse workforce, or another reason to distrust Giuliani, this is a great read. If you're looking for a good history of cabs in NYC, or just an interesting peek into the lives of the people who risk life and limb to roam the streets, this isn't it. I'm still waiting for that book.

A final nit-pick: as you'd expect from an organizer for the Taxi Workers Alliance, there's not a single word about the possible role of the drivers in the heat brought down on them. In my view, it's simply irresponsible to ignore the significant number of rude, ignorant, criminal and even dangerous people who drive cabs. If I were given the choice between reforming the lease agreement (an odious situation, to be sure) and cleaning the Boston fleets of the worst drivers, I'd probably boot the drivers. There are issues in the industry that go beyond race, class and economics, and even those issues go much deeper than Mr. Mathews takes them.
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on December 13, 2010
Clearly a book that does not withstand the test of time. Full of horribly dated academic anti-globalization blather and not even a particularly good snapshot of the NYC taxi industry at the time.

I highly recommend you skip this one.
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on December 3, 2005
New York City taxi drivers work long shifts, seven days a week: most are lease drivers on a daily or weekly contract and until the relatively recent Taxi Workers Alliance was formed, most bore the brunt of bad business. Taxi! comes from Biju Mathew, a long-time organizer of the Alliance, and uses interactions from the drivers themselves to reveal the history of the taxi business. Chapters focus on labor struggles and urban politics in New York as much as on immigrant history and influences on the taxi industry as a whole.
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on December 3, 2005
New York City taxi drivers work long shifts, seven days a week: most are lease drivers on a daily or weekly contract and until the relatively recent Taxi Workers Alliance was formed, most bore the brunt of bad business. Taxi! comes from Biju Mathew, a long-time organizer of the Alliance, and uses interactions from the drivers themselves to reveal the history of the taxi business. Chapters focus on labor struggles and urban politics in New York as much as on immigrant history and influences on the taxi industry as a whole.
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on December 3, 2005
New York City taxi drivers work long shifts, seven days a week: most are lease drivers on a daily or weekly contract and until the relatively recent Taxi Workers Alliance was formed, most bore the brunt of bad business. Taxi! comes from Biju Mathew, a long-time organizer of the Alliance, and uses interactions from the drivers themselves to reveal the history of the taxi business. Chapters focus on labor struggles and urban politics in New York as much as on immigrant history and influences on the taxi industry as a whole.
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on December 3, 2005
New York City taxi drivers work long shifts, seven days a week: most are lease drivers on a daily or weekly contract and until the relatively recent Taxi Workers Alliance was formed, most bore the brunt of bad business. Taxi! comes from Biju Mathew, a long-time organizer of the Alliance, and uses interactions from the drivers themselves to reveal the history of the taxi business. Chapters focus on labor struggles and urban politics in New York as much as on immigrant history and influences on the taxi industry as a whole.
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on December 3, 2005
New York City taxi drivers work long shifts, seven days a week: most are lease drivers on a daily or weekly contract and until the relatively recent Taxi Workers Alliance was formed, most bore the brunt of bad business. Taxi! comes from Biju Mathew, a long-time organizer of the Alliance, and uses interactions from the drivers themselves to reveal the history of the taxi business. Chapters focus on labor struggles and urban politics in New York as much as on immigrant history and influences on the taxi industry as a whole.
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on January 25, 2015
cover in poor state
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on April 25, 2015
I've been driving a cab now 2 months in NYC. This author interviews lots of immigrants, whom clearly believe they are entitled to a lot of things. They complain about nonsense. Every industry has to deal with costs to make their money. If you ope a business, you PAY rent to a landord and immediately start the day in the hole, just like the cab business where the owners of the medallion bought a PIECE OF PROPERTY(the medallion) and can now RENT it like anything else. But cab drivers today make on average anywhere from 175-300/day and they are not remotely poor. This book is out of date and does not tell a real story.

Are cars in some garages old pieces of garbage and work horribly? Yes,that is my experience. I drive a lot of bad cars. Are there dispatchers who play favorites and give better cars to those who pay them on the side? YES! So what?

Are there nasty corrupt cops out there who are taught by fellow policemen that when they desperately need to meet their qouta(because there IS a qouta) that they should just find a yellow cab and exploit the driver because what can he do? YES.

But at the end of the day, a lot of my fellow drivers can barely speak the language, come from another country and despite having very little education, are given a chance to make what in most parts of the world and definitely from the "world" they came from, a handsome living.
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