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Cab Section History

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UNITE the Union Cab Section

Unite is one of the most influential trade unions in the country, and the Cab Section, which was formed in 1874, has a long history of leading actions to defend and improve the conditions of cab drivers.

UNITE has:

  • led effective boycotts of railway stations to open them to taxi drivers
  • helped devise the London and other cost indexes
  • marched to control the number of taxi drivers on our roads
  • negotiated to allow taxis to use bus lanes

The  Following History was written as ‘The History of the TGWU Cab Section’ by the late Peter Hagger. I have edited it, very slightly to make readable for a 21st century audience. Peter J Rose.

1994 was the 300th anniversary of the licensed taxi trade, in that time the trade went through many changes, it was confronted by many problems and engaged in many struggles.

Charles Dickens summed up the general attitude to taxi drivers when he wrote "that from an early age he was taught to regard cabmen as birds of prey." The public, the authorities and the cab proprietors were all against them, it was not until the second half of the 19th century that cab drivers turned to trade unionism and political action in their fight back, prior to trade unionism they had isolated themselves from others by forming various societies. These societies were non-political and social or sporting in nature. Cab drivers soon realised that something was needed and in 1853 the first taxi drivers trade union was formed, Whilst this and other efforts were short lived due to widespread black listing by the cab proprietors , in 1874 the union which is now the Transport and General Workers Union Cab Section was formed, Its name then was the Amalgamated Cab Drivers Society, The Amalgamated Cab Drivers Society which was formed by London cab drivers changed their name firstly to the London Cab Drivers Union and then to the United Vehicle Workers. During the course of this both cab drives nationally and other workers in the road passenger industry were recruited. In 1922 the United Vehicle Markers were one of the unions that amalgamated to form the Transport and General Workers Union, bringing with them their paper The Record ‘ which became the national journal of the TGWU, 1913 and 1917 Strikes The Union has always been involved in industrial and political action to further the living standards of its  members.

One of the major actions by cab drivers was the ‘Great Cab Strike of 1913’. The strike started on January 1st when the proprietors increased their petrol charges to the driver from 86 to 1s Id, an increase of 5d per gallon. 11,000 London cab drivers went on strike led by their union the London Cab Drivers Union. The Union had national membership and organised a complete stoppage in support by cab drivers in Liverpool, Bradford and Leeds. Other unions supported the cab drivers and Paris cab drivers held collections.

Despite great hardship of the drivers and their families the strike ended in victory in mid-March. On March 21st the proprietors withdrew their 5d increase and the drivers returned to work.

At the end of the 1913 strike many drivers were arguing that the proprietors should not be charging drivers for petrol at all. This was the successful aim of the ‘1917 London Cab Drivers Strike’. After a six week withdrawal of labour the proprietors ended all charges to the drivers for petrol.

The Union also organised the boycott in 1907 of London railway stations that successfully removed the ID toll on taxis at these stations.

Co-operatives:

Co-operatives have always been an attractive venture to cab drivers over the years. Two of the most successful were both started and supported by union members The Co-operative London Cabmen’s Association was founded in 1913 and existed until 1975, The Metropolitan Motor Cab Co-operative Society was formed in 1927 and ceased trading in 1982. Both Co-operatives were victims of a period that saw a number of cab fleet garages suffer financial problems and closure, Between the Wars

One of the first major achievements of the TGWU Cab Section occurred in 1924 when Hyde Park was opened to taxicabs, With the increase in unemployment through the 1930’s more and more workers turned to the taxi trade for work. This is in a period when the taxi trade itself was suffering from the depression. The-result was a long running campaign through the 1930’s by the union membership for the introduction of limitation’, The campaign took many forms; marches, meetings, demonstrations, lobbies of Parliament, etc, and only ended with the outbreak of World War Two.

The first issue of the original Cab Trade News appeared on December 4th 1933. It was to appear regularly for the next eighteen years.

Post War:

After the war union organisation was very strong. Every cab garage was virtually one hundred per cent organised. Drivers were calling for an increase in their clock commission rate which stood at 33%. In 1950 they went on strike demanding 40% commission rate. Following a four week stoppage the proprietors signed an agreement for a minimum commission rate of 37%, although some garages had already agreed to pay the 40%. On this basis the Union called a meeting in which the drivers voted to return to work.

One of the casualties of this commission rate dispute was the Cab Trade News. The proprietors organised an advertising boycott of the journal which led to it ceasing publication in 1951.

By 1953 the trade was facing double purchase tax on the taxicab. This resulted in such a shortage of cabs that drivers were working three to a cab. The Union again played a major role in getting the double purchase tax removed. The efforts of the Union had from time to time been challenged by anti-union organisations. Whilst some of the alternative organisations, such as the Green Badge Society and the Owner Drivers Association, had moments of prosperity, they eventually disappeared.

Modern Times:

The 1960’s were dominated by the ‘minicab war’. This was when Welbeck Motors attempted to flood the streets of London with Renault Dauphin motor cars acting as taxis. Whilst Welbeck Motors did not survive, hundreds of other minicab firms sprang up! The Union campaigned for legislation to curtail their activities, and this led to the introduction of the 1968 London Cab Act. Whilst this Act restricted the activities of minicab operators, the streets of London were still full of saloon cars with illuminated signs masquerading as taxis.

The Union in October 1972 called a mass meeting in London to announce a campaign programme for further legislation to remove the illuminated signs and for taxi rides to be zero rated in respect of the proposed Value Added Tax. The first campaign action was a drive-in to Piccadilly Circus. This was overwhelmingly supported by drivers and brought the whole of central London to a complete standstill for hours. The media gave the event front page cover. Talks immediately opened with the government which directly led to the introduction of the 1973 London Cab Order and the removal of all signs on private hire vehicles that would indicate they were ‘plying for Hire’.

The Union continued its campaign for VAT zero rating and convened the largest march of taxi drivers in recent years. The march took place in London on the 5th March 1973 from Hyde Park to Temple Place, followed by a lobby of Parliament.

Whilst the TGWU has not yet achieved its policy of zero rating, it came very close when it sponsored an amendment in Parliament for VAT zero rating for the taxi trade that was defeated by 213 votes to 238.

The campaigns on illuminated signs’ and zero rating was preceded in August 1972 by the re-launch of Cab Trade News, which has continued to publish to the present day.

Historic:

1975 saw the achievement of the Union’s campaign for unsocial hours payment to drivers. It achieved for the first time additional payments for weekend and public holidays as well as bringing forward the night payment to 8pm.

The historic introduction of the TGWU Cab Section’s ‘Cost index’ happened in 1978. This document was revolutionary, for it contained the formula to provide regular reviews of fares based on scientific monitoring of cost’s and justified claim for increase in earnings, Two years later, in 1980, the ‘Cost Index’ was officially adopted and has been applied annually ever since. The whole of the taxi trade has acclaimed the TGWU Cab Section ‘Cost Index.

Taxi Bans:

In 1976 the Union called a mass meeting and demonstration in London to successfully stop the proposed closure of Ludgate Hill and the concept of the Speedbus scheme which would have debarred taxis from some areas of London’s streets. At the same time TGWU cab driver members in Liverpool were taking industrial action to successfully keep the contract for the taxi provision in ‘Golden Rail’ holidays in the licensed taxi trade.

The Union has in more recent years taken cases against British Rail to the Office of Fair Trading on the BR policy of franchising the right to ply for hire at stations to a minority of drivers at the exclusion of the majority, This has successfully led to all stations being opened to all taxi drivers licensed for the area, The Union has also taken a case against Gatwick Airport in an attempt to allow licensed taxis to ply for hire there.

Heathrow:

Through the intervention of the then General Secretary of the TGWU, Jack Jones, a working party was set up at Heathrow Airport in 1973 between the British Airport Authority and representatives of cab drivers. By the 30th March 1973 the Union had achieved the establishment of the taxi feeder park. In August of that year the Union had made an agreement for the provision of a canteen in the feeder park for cab drivers. An information hut, better terminal ranks, marking out of the feeder park, illuminated group number display board, video cameras on terminal ranks, local job return tickets and terminal information desks are some of the facilities negotiated and provided by the TGWU Cab Section at Heathrow.

On Tuesday the 26th November 1985 the TGWU Cab Section organised a boycott of Heathrow Airport when the Airport Authority introduced a 50p charge for each taxi entering the feeder park. Following 10 weeks of 24 hour picketing the drivers were jubilant when the authorities removed the 50p charge. However, disappointment was to follow when against the Unions advice a trade organisation, who had originally opposed the boycott, sought a judicial review on the legality of the introduction of a entrance charge. The court sat some months later and ruled that a charge was legal. This judgement coupled with police action of prohibiting any new picketing and escorting scabs into the feeder park, enabled the Airport Authority to re-impose the charge.

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