Author who helped organize New York cabbies to speak at York

The University Colloquium on the Global South at York will host a seminar presentation by Biju Mathew, author of Taxi!: Cabs and Capitalism in New York City (The New Press, 2005). This final presentation in the colloquium’s fall series will take place Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2:30-4:30pm, in 305 York Lanes.

Biju MathewMathew, a professor of business at New Jersey’s Rider University, is a longstanding organizer of the Taxi Workers Alliance and a co-founder of the Forum of Indian Leftists (FOIL).

Left: Biju Mathew

 In his book, he draws extensively on interactions with the drivers themselves to tell the story of an industry that has come to typify ruthless exploitation in modern business. In Taxi! Mathew looks at the political task of organizing immigrant labour from a post-colonial and Marxist theoretical perspective to produce commentary on a range of issues – from immigration, gender, race and multiculturalism to the neo-liberal political economy and the conceptual forces that fuel global cities like New York.

The yellow cab is a symbol of New York City and its exuberant 24-hours-a-day rush. But just as the city has changed in recent years, so too has the industry that keeps it on the move. As Mathew reveals in this fast-paced survey of New York’s taxi business, just about everything has changed dramatically except the yellow paint.

An immigrant working class in an industry that pioneered outsourcing, taxi drivers have a tough job with long hours and low earnings. A recent fare hike represents a major step forward for them. Behind the victory is a long campaign by the Taxi Workers Alliance stretching back to the 1998 strike against what they felt to be harassment by Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The drivers’ immediate complaint was against 17 draconian rules promulgated by Giuliani which they felt struck at the dignity of the drivers, half of which hail from South Asia and the others are mainly from Africa and the Caribbean.

The scale of this action, with 24,000 drivers participating, was achieved despite the diversity of a workforce that speaks at least 80 different languages. Taxi! is as much a critical commentary on globalization, urban renewal, migration and multiculturalism as it is an account of the struggles and triumphs of life behind the wheel.

A native of Hyderbad, India, Mathew’s fame among the drivers is legendary. One account tells the story of a visit by Mathew’s mother to the US where the Pakistani cab driver who had driven her to her son’s house refused to take any money for the fare and even touched her feet saying he was lucky to touch the feet of the mother of Biju Mathews.

Right: Cover of Taxi!

The talk is co-sponsored by several York organizations including the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean, the Division of Social Science, the Graduate Program in Social Anthropology, the International Development Studies Program, the Labour Studies Program, the York Centre for Asian Research, and the York University Bookstore.

This is the last colloquium of Fall 2005. The Winter 2006 program is in preparation – details to be announced. The University Colloquium on the Global South is an open space for debate and critical inquiry for students, faculty members, NGOs, social activists, and policy makers. Colloquia are free and do not require pre-registration.

For information or to register for updates, visit the University Consortium on the Global South Web site, e-mail Elena Cirkovic or call ext. 55237.