In many cities of the “developing” world, the cabbie is the modern-day town crier—a local oracle of political grievances and on-the-ground economic analysis. These days, though, China’s cabbies are also foot soldiers on globalization’s latest battlefront, driving a revolt against the sharing economy.
Hundreds of cab drivers have gone on strike in cities across China to protest the invasion of a new rival: a rash of ride-sharing companies rapidly flooding the streets with slick marketing and nimble digital platforms. Angry drivers are pushing back with clever protest hacks.
According to China Labour Bulletin’s reports on more than 20 taxi labor actions in recent months, drivers of Uber and the other big ride-hailing app, Didi Kuaidi, should beware of “fishing,” a tactic drivers use to jam the gears of mobile “black cab” services. In May, a strike of Tianjin cabbies was sparked by an ad hoc street battle involving luring unauthorized drivers with a mobile hail and swarming them, as regular cabbies form a flash mob–like blockade (sometimes corralling him to help local police apprehend the unauthorized driver).
Earlier this year, Quartz rounded up local media reports on similar labor actions. “Protesting drivers in the southern Chinese city of Nanjing beat taxi drivers who kept working, calling them ‘betrayers’ and smashing their cars,” according to state media, and “Similar incidents also happened in Jinan, northeastern Shandong province.”
In Changchun, Chengdu Province, hundreds of drivers launched a two-day strike, leading to a cab blockade and repeated police confrontations. Like drivers in Suzhou, Fuzhou and other cities, drivers complained not only of unfair competition from app-based drivers, but also the crushing cost of plying their trade. For example, Changchun drivers complained of having to fork over 240–280 yuan in daily contracting fees, leaving them with a tiny fraction of that in take-home pay at the end of a shift.