February 7, 2005


Beijing Cabbie Finds That Workers' Rights Don't Apply: Union Organizing Drive Thwarted by Government-Owned Firm (Edward Cody, February 7, 2005, Washington Post)

From the beginning, Dong Xin had one thing on his mind as he steered his little red taxi year after year through the crowded streets of Beijing. In a Communist-run country, he figured, cabbies should be able to bargain with the bosses who own their cars, control their working conditions and set their meager incomes.

"The reason I keep hoping is that I think our country is a republic," Dong said over a lunch of Peking duck recently, at which he described his long campaign to establish a taxi drivers' union. "It belongs to the people."

After nearly 10 years of struggle, however, Dong and his fellow drivers remain stuck with 15-hour workdays, low pay and lopsided relationships with the approximately 300 companies that control the Chinese capital's profitable taxi industry. In a pattern reproduced in workplaces across the country, their interests have been left to a branch of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, which is part of the same vast government bureaucracy that ultimately controls their cars and their lives.

"A union?" scoffed Liu Jingqi, 45, who has driven passengers around Beijing's polluted avenues and alleys for seven years. "We have a union, all right, but it's of no use."

The powerlessness of Beijing's estimated 65,000 taxi drivers goes to the heart of a complaint that has arisen repeatedly as China's economy moves toward free-market liberalism while its one-party government retains a monopoly on power. In the disruptions brought about by economic change, millions of workers have been left defenseless by a government that will not allow independent organizations capable of challenging official authority on their behalf.

The judicial system remains subordinate to the government and the Communist Party. Religious leaders must work within government-approved churches or face prosecution. Security police have jailed large numbers of people for trying to start independent political movements or even unsanctioned discussion groups. And workers have been barred from starting their own unions, even in companies run by the government.

So long as China remains totalitarian it isn't a threat and as soon as it stops being totalitarian it'll fall apart.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 7, 2005 8:56 AM

Of all the enterprises in China That Mr. Cody could write about he chose an extremely odd one. Taxi drivers don't need a union because they, of all people, are the regime within a regime with a network without peer.

Posted by: at February 7, 2005 1:31 PM

Substitute the words 'cab driver' for 'shipyard worker' and we could be talking about Solidarity in Poland.

Posted by: Bart at February 7, 2005 1:34 PM

Labor unions promote democracy and undermine dictatorships, which is why they are hated by those in power.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at February 7, 2005 6:56 PM