A mass strike is being threatened by Cardiff taxi drivers next week, in protest against the routine racism, abuse and violence that cabbies face and indifference by the police and local council.
According to the chairman of the Cardiff Hackney Association (CHA), Mathab Khan, 731 CHA members could walk out next Friday, amid claims police do not respond quickly enough to the continuous attacks, violence and damage to their cars that drivers face. Cabbies are ‘dreading’ the weeks over Christmas, Khan says, and have dubbed 23 December – the day of the potential strike action – as ‘Black Friday’.
Taxi drivers often ply their trade in conditions which render them vulnerable to abuse. They are alone; their peak working hours are late at night; they are at the whim of those they are transporting and, often, they are outnumbered when violence takes place. The potential strike in Cardiff embodies concerns about all violence in the upcoming Christmas period. But the risks of racist attacks are highest. As Mathab Khan asks, ‘Why should we risk our life to work?’ And his question is a legitimate one.
As the Institute of Race Relations documented last year in Racial violence: the buried issue, taxi drivers are frequently subjected to racial violence. And across the UK, several attacks have proved fatal. In 2000, Sarfraz Khan died after being beaten, stabbed six times and set alight in his taxi in Rotheram by a man who later claimed he was ‘off his head’ at the time of the racist murder. In 2002, Israr Hussain died after being stabbed in the neck by a man who he had picked up in the early hours of a December morning in Oldham. In 2003, Paul Rosenburg, a South-African taxi driver in the Isle of Wight died after being punched in the head repeatedly by a customer who later reportedly explained to a friend ‘I only did it because he was black’. In 2006, Mohammed Pervaiz, was killed by a group of teenagers in Huddersfield who racially abused him whilst attacking like, according to witnesses, a ‘pack of wolves’. In 2009, Mohammed Arshad from Birmingham, was killed by a man who stabbed him in the head. For every murder, there are many more serious attacks.
Responding to the proposed strike action, a spokeswoman for South Wales police argued that all incidents of abuse and violence against taxi drivers are investigated thoroughly in Cardiff. And a representative of the council said that the existence of a multi-agency ‘taxi forum’ indicates that concerns by drivers are being addressed. The fact that drivers are planning to go on strike though suggests that this is not the case, at least not in a way which drivers feel is adequate and it continues a relationship between the council and the city’s taxi drivers which has previously, at times, been fraught. Last year, plans by the council to force drivers to take English exams if customers complained about their language skills were described by the CHA as ‘arbitrary’. Drivers in Cardiff are already subjected to rigorous tests, Mathab Khan explained; and given that many were subjected to racial abuse from people they picked up, the proposals could potentially be exploited by customers who made malicious claims against them.
Faced with ongoing risks of violence, taxi drivers throughout the UK are beginning to organise. In June last year, between seventy and eighty taxi drivers in Cardiff said they would refuse to work on the day of a rally by the Welsh Defence League, with anti-fascist campaigners urging them to join a counter-demonstration against the presence of the far-right group in the city. In Huddersfield, almost 3,000 drivers went on strike a few years ago in protest against racial violence, in Coventry, some 600 cabbies did the same and in 2009, in Birmingham, 200 drivers attended a meeting expressing anger at the local council’s inadequate response to attacks. The strike next week, if it goes ahead, will continue this trajectory. As Mathab Khan explained, as it stands at the moment, drivers working over the Christmas period will be ‘endangering their lives’. They are faced by a lethal combination of routine violence on the one hand, and official indifference on the other.
Read an IRR News story : ‘Alone and unprotected, taxi-drivers fear for their safety’