UTCC: Who are we and where did we come from?

By Peter Enger - Posted on 15 May 2008

UTCC’s origins lie in the injustices and exploitive working conditions faced by Chicago cabdrivers. In 2006 an organization called the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, attempting to respond to the many complaints they had been receiving from the Muslim cabdrivers here in Chicago about unfair treatments at the hands of the City of Chicago, approached progressive allies who could assist them in the endeavor to address these issues. They found the American Friends Service Committee a willing partner. The AFSC is a faith-based human rights organization with a long history and track record of involvement in successful campaigns for social justice all over the country and the world.

The AFSC made a commitment by hiring some organizers, training them, and setting up the Taxi Workers Organizing Project (TWO Project). This project began doing research into the nature of the exploitation of taxi drivers here in Chicago, identified possible solutions, and attempted to recruit leaders and activists amongst Chicago cabdrivers who would be willing to work with them to address these issues and reform the industry here in Chicago.

Summer of ‘07: Wildcat Strike and Our Beginnings

By the summer of 2007, the conditions of work had gotten so bad that many drivers had begun doing grassroots organizing work (outside of the TWO Project’s organizing) to address the many injustices we face. One such driver, Melissa Callahan, called a wildcat strike. The strike energized many to become politically involved, including some current members of the UTCC. On another front, the village of Skokie attempted to ban parking by cabdrivers on their city streets, which resulted in further activism by many drivers. The ticketing of Muslim drivers at O’Hare Airport who were parking briefly to prayer at sunset prayers politicized many others.

In January 2008, the AFSC organizers decided to call together a group of drivers whom they had identified as having a track record of dedicated activism. The goal of this meeting was to see if those assembled could form an organization that would work towards collectively addressing the issues faced by Chicago cabdrivers.

At the meeting, a core group of committed activist cabdrivers decided to form a Steering Committee to push the work forward. In the coming weeks this committee would become the United Taxidrivers Community Council (UTCC), envisioned as a mass, grassroots, membership-based organization, founded on democratic principles and transparency as embodied in our Mission Statement and Code of Conduct.

Our First Meeting: Formation of the Steering Committee.

At our first meeting, when the drivers present at the meeting decided to come together to work collectively, we proposed that we needed someone to lead the temporary Steering Committee. There was resistance to this idea: Some felt that whoever was chosen would be seen as wanting ‘power’ or to make a name for themselves, and no one wanted come forward for this position. Some of us argued that we needed this position, as someone would have to speak for our new organization, and lead meetings.

Finally, someone suggested that we choose the eldest, as all cultures recognize their elders as having authority, and no one could criticize this process as favoring one person over another. This is how we came to choose Fayez Khozindar as UTCC’s interim Chairperson.

Our Second Meeting: Advisory & Solidarity Members

At our second meeting, we decided that it would be extremely crucial and important to define the nature of the relationship of our cabdriver organization to supporters from outside the Taxi Industry, such as the AFSC’s TWO Project. This is because there had been much criticism and discussion about who should have the job of organizing cabdrivers. Some of us at this meeting also had the opinion that we drivers should have the job and authority of organizing ourselves. We were suspicious of the motives of outside organizers coming into our workplace and setting goals and agendas for us.

In order to address these concerns, several of us who had been working on our Constitution and By-Laws went back to it and added several provisions to define what outside assistance we would be willing to accept and under what conditions- Our conditions. We would be the ones to define the conditions. This was of supreme importance to us.

We came up with two definitions for supporters from outside our Industry that we would accept assistance from. The first was the “Advisory” relationship. This would be defined as persons or organizations that wanted to help our organization, whether it would be lawyers, educators, social workers, or other persons with skills that could assist our future social programs. These “advisors” are required to pay membership dues, would be welcome in our Steering Committee as non-voting members, and would be required to donate their skills or labor as per our requests (contingent, of course, on their abilities to provide them). The second was the “Solidarity” relationship. This would be defined as persons or organizations that wanted to take on an even deeper commitment to our goals and principles.

As with the Advisory relationship, the Solidarity relationship requires payment of membership and a non-voting position on our Steering Committee, but in addition to these, the Solidarity organization or person would also be required to provide material resources to our organization, once again based on our needs and their abilities to provide them. Our Steering Committee members accepted all of these definitions into our Constitution and By-Laws. More importantly, supporters from outside our Taxi Industry who were taking part in these organizing efforts, most notably the AFSC, accepted these conditions.

UTCC becomes an active organization

Since these early meetings, we in the newly formed UTCC have been very busy and visible in taking on many issues facing Chicago cabdrivers. We are sure there is not a cabdriver in Chicago who does not recognize our organizers or our literature. Some of the issues we have just begun to address here are: the overcharging of leases by affiliations, and the City’s non-enforcement of the lease cap rules, the fare increase campaign, the Skokie parking ban, the “parking while praying” issue at O’Hare, and other issues. We have many far-reaching plans to address every issue that pertains to much-needed reforms in our industry.

But we can’t do it without you, Chicago cabdrivers!

We are only a few, dedicated, determined activist drivers right now. In order to achieve our goals, your goals, all of our goals, we need more participation, more involvement, more dedication from our community. That means you, Chicago Cabdrivers!

We have just recently incorporated as a non-profit organization and registered with the State and Federal governments. That means we can finally collect membership dues and form the legal entity we have needed for so long to fight for our rights with the City of Chicago- to have a seat at the table when decisions are made that affect our livelihood, and that will ultimately provide much-needed social services for our workers, like any and every other workforce here in the United States.

While we cannot promise these things at this point in time, we have a long-term vision of being able to provide basic social services to our taxi workers such as: basic life insurance, credit unions, educational services, and ultimately even health insurance! But it will all depend on you, and your support for your and our organization, the UTCC. This is our vision, our hope for your and our future in this industry here in Chicago.

Will you help us achieve these goals? For you, your children, and for future cabdrivers! We are all a part of the human family, and need to work together for the love of our fellow human beings so we can make progress in our society. If this makes us sound like idealists, we are guilty as charged, and proud of it. Please come join us in this noble and noteworthy endeavor!

We will start having our membership drive in the near future, and scheduling meetings on a monthly basis open to all Chicago cabdrivers. Here, we will give reports on the work we are doing, invite public comment, expand our active membership of cabdrivers.

We can’t do it all alone, but together, WE CAN DO IT!