Taxi Drivers in New York City Are on Hunger Strike for Debt Forgiveness

Taxi drivers organized with the New York City Taxi Workers’ Alliance (NYTWA) have been protesting outside City Hall for 43 days. Twelve days ago, they began a hunger strike demanding that debt forgiveness be granted to thousands of Taxi drivers who are buried under medallion loan debts. Drivers have been caught in a financial crisis that has caused depression and other health problems. Due to the enormous burden and misery that their exorbitant city debt caused, nine workers committed suicide in 2019. Their situation has become even more dire over the past two decades due to the Covid-19 crises, which dramatically reduced their work hours.

City Hall workers held vigils in support of the nine drivers who lost their jobs in 2019. They also displayed signs calling for debt forgiveness and condemning the lies that the state and banks told them. During our discussions with the drivers, we learned that many were tricked by the city to obtain large loans to finance the yellow taxi medallion, which allows drivers to travel in all five boroughs of New York City. The price of the medallion soared to over $1 million in 2014 alone. Many drivers — the majority of whom are immigrants — believed it was a good job opportunity and safe long-term investment. This was the dream that was being sold to drivers from India and Pakistan, Nepal, Tibet, India, Pakistan, Pakistan, and Pakistan. As one driver said “That was our American dream. It turned out to be a scam.”

A scam is exactly what it was — a result of decades of exploiting taxi drivers to fund New York City’s budget. Republican mayor Rudy Giuliani “placed political allies inside the Taxi and Limousine Commission and directed it to sell medallions to help them balance budgets and fund priorities,” according to The New York Times. His successor, Democratic mayor Michael Bloomberg, continued the practice in order to balance the city’s $3 billion budget deficit. In the early 2000s, drivers saw the price for medallions skyrocket. Predatory lenders encouraged buyers to borrow as much as they could to make a profit on the interest of these loans. This artificially increased the price of medallions. Drivers were left with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt and no relief.

These drivers, who were promised the exclusive right of operating taxis in the city, went into debt to the city government and made $855 million. In 2014, Uber and Lyft entered the market, decimating taxi business and exploiting a new section of workers with limited labor protections. Uber is able to operate in the city without any regulations, whereas taxi drivers are subject to a variety of regulations and fees like permits and licensing costs. Uber has made major profits by completely destroying taxi drivers in the area, and hyper-exploiting its own drivers, who only see a fraction if every fare. As a consequence, the value and worth of medallions fell.

Many workers who voted to elect de Blasio for mayor in 2014 are now disillusioned at his mayoral administration. 2014 saw the city receive federal funds that were reserved for the taxi industry. De Blasio instead of using the money for drivers who were unable to repay their loans, he gave the money away to banks and hedge funds that engaged in entrepreneurship. predatory loans targeting taxi drivers. One driver shared a heartbreaking tale of another driver who killed himself in front of de Blasio’s mansion: “The mayor still does nothing.”

The current financial crisis destroying the lives of New York City taxi drivers is more than one mayor’s failed program; it’s the result of a strategy by both capitalist parties to profit off of the backs of workers. Regardless of their party affiliation, bourgeois politicians all have the same goal: to maintain the exploitation the working class for capitalist profit. There is no interest to the livelihoods and well-being of workers.

Taxi drivers are responsible for paying their cabs and forfeiting a portion of their earnings to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the TLC (Taxi and Limousine Commission), and credit card companies. They also have to pay off the loans for the medallion. A driver voiced his frustration: “We can’t make money anymore. I’m paying $650,000 off in loans that I’ll never pay off and there is too much competition in the city to make really anything. Our pandemic started in 2014 the moment Uber showed up.”

While striking taxi drivers are critical of Uber and Lyft they recognize that the workers who drive for them are not enemies. One driver commented: “I have friends who drive Uber. They’d have a fare for 80 dollars to the airport and get nothing from it.” The experience of drivers in both the public and private sectors is marked by precarity and exploitation. That is why taxi drivers must connect their struggle to that of Uber and Lyft drivers by organizing together and thereby strengthening the fight for drivers’ rights.

Taxi drivers are fed up, and are organizing themselves as workers to fight for their demands — a crucial step in improving their lives and realizing their own strategic position within capitalism.

The working class must stand with taxi drivers and demand total debt forgiveness. meager grant programs that barely scrape the surface of the drivers’ debt. Banks and lenders must not prey on the lives of the working classes by speculating on their finances. Uber and Lyft are exploitative app firms that should be banned from wreaking destruction on the working classes and devastating public transportation. Instead of providing safe and efficient public transport, the state favors banks, hedge funds and corporations that endanger the lives of workers.

The New York City taxi drivers’ plight shows how corporations, bourgeois politicians from both capitalist parties and the State work together to profit from the backs of Black and Brown immigrants who keep the city running day in and day out. It is important to establish a partnership between the taxi drivers, app driver, and MTA workers responsible for dealing with this issue. the crumbling infrastructure of the subways from climate change. It’s clear that neither the government nor its capitalist politicians will bring the necessary solutions; only the consolidated power of the working class and oppressed will.