Last chance: Either STOP THE TRAFFIC or stop the whingeing

For two years now Uber has shown its utter contempt for Australian laws, governments and regulators, and the thousands of us who rely on the taxi industry for our living. How have our governments responded? They have been busy changing their laws to accommodate Uber.

And what we done? We have held a few noisy meetings in halls and a few public rallies, ensuring we didn’t disrupt the traffic too much and we follow all the police directives. We have played by the rules. What have we achieved? Beside a bit of media attention, absolutely nothing! Rides-haring is now legalised in the ACT, NSW, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. Queensland and Victoria will release their policy in July. It may look like it is ‘game, set and match’ to Uber, but it doesn’t need to be, not if we do what we should have done 12 months ago. Break the rules! Stop the traffic! Not for an hour or two, but for as many hours over as many days as it takes to get the level playing field we were promised.

We have the means and the power to force every state government to rethink. All we need is the will and the courage. All it takes is some serious NVDA - none-violent direct action i.e. civil disobedience. Blockade the CBDs and the airports!

by Tim Hoi

The Victorian Taxi and Hire Car Families (VTHCF), the most united and well-organised group of taxi activists in the country, held a rally on 10 May in front of the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ electoral office at Noble Park, 25km from the Melbourne CBD.

It may have been a bit optimistic of the organisers to expect a large number of its supporters to drive to ‘Woop Woop’ for yet another demo and that it was pouring with rain didn’t help. Yet around 100 people defied the distance and the elements. The biggest surprise though was that the media also turned up (TV and press) and for once the reporting was quite sympathetic. In fact it appears that the media in general is slowly realising that Uber is not what it’s cracked up to be and that its business model and ethics are seriously flawed.

What made this rally exceptional were some of the interview comments reported in the media.

One VTHCF representative George Kolliou told reporters: “We are going to stay here until we get an outcome. If we need to bring Melbourne to a standstill we will.”

The group’s spokesperson, David Singh, warned that the situation could turn ugly and violent if problems facing the state’s taxi drivers were not fixed.

VTHCF demo at Nobel Park

These kinds of threats, empty or not, are not confined to Melbourne. They resonate on social media with hundreds of taxi people around the country. For the past two months, having realised that our peaceful lawful protests have been completely ignored by our governments, an increasing number of taxi drivers – bailees, operators and plate owners - are realising that the only option left, if we want to win a fair deal, is to take none-violent direct action (NVDA) in the form of massive traffic disruption where it will have the greatest impact - the CBD and/or airport. That’s the one kind of civil disobedience no government can ignore. It is of course also against the law. All NVDAs are, whether they are against government-sanctioned destruction of the environment, public property, civil rights or our right to compete on a level playing field. Taxi people in Australia historically are not militant nor organised. We are divided by the very fabric of the industry into owners, operators and contract drivers as well as by ethnicity or religion, each group with different priorities, however the one thing we all agree on is that they way our governments are legalising ‘ridesharing’ will destroy our livelihood. It already is, yet the vast majority of us are too timid to defy authority by an act of civil disobedience, one of the very cornerstone of democracy.

Anti-Uber blockade: Budapest, Hungary

The unfortunate truth is that many activists are left traumatised by abusive and violent police action or end up in debt due to legal costs. It is also a fact that taxi people are particularly vulnerable to the law as we need a government licence and accreditation to work legally. Not that that stopped Uber or its UberX drivers.

Despite the possible ramifications I can’t help fantasising about what would happen if, say 30 cabs blockaded the entrance to Sydney’s domestic airport and/or a busy narrow one-way street like say Liverpool Street in Sydney’s CBD, with the drivers locking their cars and just sitting there listening to talkback radio with the engine off. What would the cops do if the drivers simply ignored them and stayed put? Smash the windows, call a locksmith, the riot squad, a fleet of tow trucks? Give them fines for obstructing traffic, illegal parking, failing to obey a police officer? The mind boggles.

The cops would have to be very careful how they behaved. There would be cameras everywhere, TV, mobiles and security.

The organisers (the what?) would have to be very well organised. They would find a very media savvy representative to negotiate with police and front the media. They would also issue a truly professional media release, stating exactly what their demands of the government are. They would hire a top law firm with experience in NVDAs to provide advice well before the event and represent the 30 or 60 heroes in court afterwards if necessary. They would raise enough money to pay the legal team and the drivers’ fines.

As I said, I’m just fantasising. •

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OZ Cabbie February 2017

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