Monday, January 30, 2017

COMETH THE HOUR, COMETH THE MEN ... By Jim Thomas


I sat in the Kings Cross Taxi Centre last night chatting to my normal crowd, most in their mid 60's to early 70s. Drivers I've respected and looked up to throughout my 43 years service in this trade.

Drivers who back in the day, willingly fought tooth and nail with no questions asked, to kept this trade going strong for many years. I'm proud to call these drivers my friends.

I remember standing shoulder to shoulder with them when we
  • Banged up the car park at the GLC City hall (an operation the military would have been proud of)
  • Converged on Marylebone Council House to protest against Westminster Council's proposed licensing of minicab offices in the West End (a protest boycotted by the LTDA)
  • Stood firm outside Stringfellows and the Hippodrome when they installed the first minicab satellite office style booking desks
  • Blocked in Mr Ali's touts at Cranbourne Street
  • Stood together against the aggressive touts outside the Sports Cafe
  • Formed the first ever impromptu flashmob at the battle of Hanover Square
  • Protested many times at Nobu, Tiger Tiger, Abacus, OnAnon plus much, more.
  • Even got the wife killer slung off the knowledge.

The first 'Hit Squad' I personally got involved with, was formed by a group of drivers who were regulars at the Warwick Ave night shelter. 

Every night we would receive a target which we would pass on by word of mouth, no mobiles back then but sometimes we'd get a message out to the radio circuits. Lords (Dial a Cab) and Mountview (RTG) were very helpful but Com Cab, who back then were part of the LTDA, didn't want to know.

Around midnight, cabs would assemble to block in the touts -who back then were unlicensed- and we would take back the work. A system that worked a treat.

Targets ranged from Hombre's in Wells Street, The Sports Cafe in Haymarket, Stringfellows in Upper St Martins Lane and our biggest threat at that time, Mr Ali's.... A tout from Luton, working from a door way in Cranbourne Street. 
You could say this was the first recognised cross boarder hiring set up. 

Back then, there were no compliance teams, no nighttime  PCO's, all we had to call on was a bunch of Met Cab Enforcement Officers. At first they proved helpful, but unfortunately because of the unrest caused by the IRA, virtually all the Cab Enforcement officers had to be seconded to help special branch and we were left high and dry. 

By the late 80's Jim Wells, chair of the newly formed LCDC, stepped forward and led the troops on a succession of very effective 'hits'. With the mobile phone revolution just about to break, getting the message out suddenly got easier.

Back then, Private Hire wasn't a licensed trade and the Carriage Office had little to no power and so we were at the mercy of what little help we could get from the police.  

Some years later -with Bob Oddy's words ringing in our ears " when minicabs are licensed, touting will be their problem, not ours"- a few cabbies from the London Taxi Driver's Forum, formed a militant group called the TAG Hit Squad. 

Formed mainly to reclaim the work consistently being stolen from places such as Hanover Square, Tiger Tiger, Swallow Street, Nobu's In Berkeley Street, OnAnon and Abacus in the City.  

The Hit Squad was made up of drivers from every org and although the orgs chose not to get involved officially, the UCG committee was right up the front on every hit. Some nights, so many drivers would assemble, we were able to tackle more than one objective. 

Operations were filmed on digital cameras, showing clipboard johnnies openly touting, cabs arriving forming a blockade and the scabs screaming away in the background. As Taxis a received a job from the impromptu marshals it would immediately be replaced by other drivers forming a rolling rank. This kept the Pirates trapped kerbside, sometimes for over an hour.

By now we where under the watchful eye of TfL. As this was before the TfLTPH Twitter account came about, all evidence collated was sent to TfL by email....but with no reply. When I made a formal complaint that we were being ignored, I was told they didn't have the facilities to play the videos. No joking that's what they actually said....
This from the most prestigious Taxi licensing authority in Europe.  

Even so we had some great victories. A rank was put outside the door or the Jalouse club in Hanover Square, which was fed by the shelter rank. Tiger Tiger rank was extended from 2 spaces to 11 cab lengths, putting us bang outside their door, (lost now and moved to the other side of Haymarket). 

Nobu's rank was won after a lady driver was assaulted by a tout outside, she was on Dial a Cab who, along with RTG kept a presence outside the restaurant every night until Westminster finally gave in.

OnAnon's tout outfit, Diamond Chauffeurs, fell victim to the contra flow bus lane. Abacus was given a rank over a hundred yards away on the wrong side of the road, also pointing in wrong direction. It was only after the UCG arranged frequent hits at the bar, the City of London police got involved and the rank decreased in size, was move to the right side of the street. Unfortunately the powers that be left space in front of the rank to allow Diamond Chauffeurs to continue touting.

It was around then, the trade suddenly faced an onslaught from its worst enemies, apathy, complacency, empire building and division. 

Our orgs started to fight each other rather than take on the might of our true enemy. It became more of an uphill struggle as drivers refused to join their colleagues, with just the same faces turning up at hits. 

Even demos called by our so called representative orgs saw many drivers carrying on working or slipping off to play golf. A trade Union leader actually got caught up the middle of a Trafalgar Square demo, with a passenger onboard, claiming he knew nothing about the action. 

The best taxi trade in the world, with the worst leadership, started to fall apart.

Back in 2014 I wrote an article which ended:

Definitely not the trade it once was, now broken and demoralised.
In a recent interview on London Taxi Radio, John Mason admitted he put together the engagement policy, because it was his job to get the Mayor’s clean air strategy past. An agenda which included the Taxi age limit. His policy split the trade and has enabled TfL to walk all over us ever since.

After Mason outlived his usefulness, TfL made it clear he would be sidestepped, which left him no option other than resigning. 

The engagement policy is now dead in the water, but in its wake, has left the constituent members of the United Trade Group locked in a power struggle, constantly at each other’s throats.

Exclusion is still the order of the day with the UTG. Seriously, what benefits can possibly be achieved by keeping the trade divided?
Only Oddy, McNamara, Kelly, Davis and Cox know the answer.

With a truly united trade, we could of had TfL quaking in their boots.
Instead, we got them pissing their pants laughing at us.

Our friend Semtex (who made the original quote, men are coming to kill us) said;
"When the final battle comes, there will be no one left to lead.
Best Taxi Service In The World ? … Not Any More".

We may be down, but we're not out...not yet!
Moving on to today we've seen the formation of two new militant groups, the Mayfair Mob who have been servicing the new Mayfair and City ranks and Dads Defending Daughters, a very active group formed to lead from the front, exposing the rapes and sexual assaults being covered up by our very own licensing authority. 

With our representative orgs resting on their laurels, becoming no more than revenue raising businesses, we've seen the emergence of the most exciting group of all, The Independent Taxi Alliance (ITA). Driver led, with no football supporter mentality, no empire building, no ego's, they have emerged as an anonymous group who will arrange and lead direct action against any form of oppression, harassment, or any action that threatens the  Licence Taxi Trade as we know it. 

We have now rewritten the legion 
"COMETH THE HOUR, COMETH THE MEN".

With the RMT kindly acting as mediators -the only org willing to cross the line drawn in the sand- the ITA will be meeting with the Corporation of London Planning Committee today, to discuss the trades exclusion from the bank junction. Information will be made available as soon as we receive it.