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New Activists Report on TDU Convention

Teamsters for a Democratic Union - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 10:51

November 13, 2014: The TDU Convention in Cleveland last weekend drew a record number of new participants, who were able to link up with stewards, leaders, and concerned Teamsters from across North America.

Some of the new folks, like Jeff Williams, were experienced Teamsters but new to TDU and ready to take back our union.

"Meeting rank and file Teamsters and TDU members from across the country was terrific. Seeing Fred Zuckerman talking about building a coalition with other great leaders at the convention brought a tear to my eye. WE can take back our union!"

Jeff WilliamsLocal 89, LouisvilleHolland

Some were elected stewards aiming to gain new skills, like Kirk Sikora.

"Thanks to TDU for hosting such an eye opening convention. The workshops were highly interactive. The “Ask the Expert” session was tremendously useful. It was my first convention and I will be back."

Kirk SikoraLocal 327, NashvilleCassens Transport

Some were younger Teamsters –the future of our union -- like Imani Vidal.

"As an alternate shop steward, the TDU convention provided me with useful info and dialog. It gave me a boost for believing in the right to be treated as a human being in the workplace. It was a great bonding experience with folks from Local 804 and Teamsters nationwide. I recommend it to all Teamsters."

Imani VidalLocal 804, New YorkUPS

All of them left ready to build TDU and the movement for a new direction in our union. 

Issues: TDU
Categories: Labor News, Unions

With Longshore Workers Support How Protests Against Israeli Bombing of Gaza Stopped Zim Ships

Current News - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 02:57

With Longshore Workers Support
How Protests Against Israeli Bombing of Gaza Stopped Zim Ships
http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/11/12/how-protests-against-israeli-bomb...

NOVEMBER 12, 2014

With Longshore Workers Support
How Protests Against Israeli Bombing of Gaza Stopped Zim Ships
by JACK HEYMAN
Protests against the Israeli bombing of Gaza erupted around the world but none had a more powerful impact than picketers in the port of Oakland, California in August and September. International calls for workers protest actions were made by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), the International Transport Workers Federation and the International Dockworkers Council (IDC), as well as an urgent call for action by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) National Committee. Messages of support for labor action were sent to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 by dockworkers unions Spain and England. Longshoremen and Bay Area activists took the initiative to act in solidarity with the plight of Palestinians.
After an initial attempt on August 2, several thousand turned out for a rally called by the Block the Boat (BtB) coalition on Saturday August 16. However, this was not an action to stop the cargo operations with a picket line against the Zim Piraeus because Israeli-owned Zim Lines delayed the ship’s arrival, not surprisingly, to avoid the protests. Zim had done so during an Oakland protest in 2010. Instead, this was a spirited port rally as the ship stemmed the tide offshore. Leaders of BtB ended the rally, declaring a “victory” without further plans for picketing the ship’s docking later at Stevedore Services of America (SSA) Berth 57.
Independent Bay Area activists pressed for a picket and the following day, belatedly, BtB organizers acceded and called for a blockade on Sunday August 17, as the ship was docking at the SSA Terminal just in time for the night shift. A few hundred picketed the gates as longshore workers honored their picket line. The ship was not worked for that first shift. Subsequent picketing was done mainly by autonomous activists, some from Occupy’s remnants, others from BtB and the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee (TWSC). Again, ILWU members honored the lines, but picketers questioned where the BtB leadership was and why a call to mobilize pickets hadn’t gone out sooner? A head of steam picked up with longshore support to continue the picketing and stop the cargo operation with the successful picketing of each shift, day and night.
By August 19, Zim Lines’ anger had reached a boiling point. After three days of effective picketing with longshoremen honoring the line, the ship’s sailing board was set for the afternoon. But this ploy to deceive longshore workers and picketers didn’t work. TWSC received a heads up message that afternoon from a longshore supporter. Zim was moving ‘”the ship over to berth 22 tonight, inform everyone!!!”
Sure enough the Zim Piraeus let go lines at Berth 57 as if it were heading out to sea. Just outside the Golden Gate Bridge she made a U turn and headed to Ports America Berth 22 where pickets were already set up. However, this time rather than ordering longshoremen from the union hiring hall, Zim pulled a quickie as they had tried in 2010. They shifted longshore workers from another ship to the Zim ship. The longshore contract allows employers to shift gangs, but there was no contract. It had expired July 1. As maritime employers were hammering the union in concessionary bargaining, workers were free to do as they pleased. Some refused to be shifted. Others, coerced by company managers and union officials, worked the Zim Piraeus slowly, very slowly. One crane operator boasted barely any of the cargo was moved. Frustrated, Zim’s “flying Dutchman” shifted to Anchorage 9 awaiting berth. Finding none, she sailed 5:30PM August 20 for her next port of call, Vostochny, Russia.
This was a dramatic victory for those protesting the genocidal Zionist attack on Gaza. It inspired others to try to organize similar actions in ports in the U.S. and Canada. None clearly met with Oakland’s success. Some were able to delay the vessel an hour or so. Others simply informed longshore workers by leafleting. An “outside/inside” action requires the solidarity of longshore workers who discharge and load the containers. If they cross the picket line, use a side gate or enter when no pickets are present, the ship’s cargo will be worked. It’s not easy to build solid links with waterfront unions but Palestinian activists are trying.
Some activists wanted to picket Zim again in September, but the BtB leadership opposed the idea. So, the Stop Zim Action Committee (SZAC) was formed to picket the Zim Shanghai on September 27. Their picket line included three retired longshoremen who had been organizers of the ILWU’s 1984 anti-apartheid action, more than a dozen who had participated in the 2010 anti-Zim picket and four activists who had been on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla which was bloodily attacked by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). All picketers wore their “battle scars” proudly.
Workers’ Action: The Most Powerful Solidarity
In 2009, the South African dockworkers union protested Zionist atrocities by refusing to unload the Israeli ship Johanna Russ in Durban. Similarly the Swedish dockworkers in 2010 protested the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) killings of humanitarian aid workers on board the Gaza Freedom Flotilla by refusing to work an Israeli ship. Anti-Zim protesters cite the 1984 anti-apartheid strike in San Francisco by longshoremen to show the ILWU’s history of solidarity actions. But that one and these other dockworker actions were organized by the workers themselves. They were not BDS actions with community picket lines. They were expressions of workers power! Howard Keylor, the 89-year- old retired longshoreman who made the longshore union motion will be the first to point that out.
Nor did the anti-Zim protest on the morning of September 27 require a picket line at the SSA terminal gate because longshore gangs didn’t show up to work the Zim Shanghai. An announcement was made at the hiring hall about the picketing. Only one union member took a dispatch slip to work Zim. This was longshore workers solidarity in action. Longshore workers are in a heated contract battle with their employers, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA). Without a contract in place SSA had no recourse. So they offered a deal with the union. If, on the evening shift the jobs would be filled, the employers would make sure there was no police presence.
During the August and September protests against the Zim ships, the ILWU International officers issued erroneous statements to the press that the longshoremen weren’t going to work because the pickets posed a threat and ILWU hadn’t taken a position on Zionist oppression of Palestinians. http://www.labournet.net/docks2/1410/TWSC1.html
However, the Local 10 president explained that ILWU’s experience has been that in protest situations like this and the 2003 anti-war protests in the port the police are the threat not the protesters. He was referring to then-Mayor Jerry Brown’s OPD opening fire with so-called non-lethal weapons on anti-war protesters and longshore workers alike. This cost the city over $2,000,000 paid to victims of the police attack including ILWU Local 10. This act of police brutality was listed in the UN’s annual report on human rights.
(http://danielborgstrom.blogspot.com/2004/04/united-nations-report-on-oak...)
So, the deal was sealed between the union and SSA. All the jobs were filled on the evening dispatch and the police were removed by SSA from the vicinity of the terminal. Longshoremen informed the pickets about the union/SSA deal, assuring them that Local 10 would honor the line. With no police to violate free speech rights, picketers blocked the main gate with cars and pickets. Longshoremen saw the picket line, drove to another terminal and stood by with their union official. With no longshore workers the Zim Shanghai couldn’t be worked. Not one container was moved after two full shifts. Zim sent her down to LA. Irate Zionists were calling for the arrest of the protesters but to no avail.
One must view these Zim protests in the context of ILWU’s militant history. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABosvjawnj4 The ILWU initiated class struggle actions for social justice– to free Angela Davis in 1972 and Mumia Abu-Jamal in 1999, for justice for Oscar Grant’s family in 2010, to protest the police brutality against WTO protesters in Seattle also in 1999, to show solidarity with besieged Wisconsin state workers in 2011, refusing to load military cargo to the juntas in Chile and El Salvador in the 1970’s and ‘80’s and on May Day 2008 shut down all West Coast ports calling for an end to the imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. None of these union actions was contingent on “community support” but many were bolstered by community mobilizations. The first anti-Israeli job action by a union in the U.S. was in 2010 by Local 10 in Oakland in which the TWSC played a leading role. Protesting the IDF killings on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, the action depended on support from the San Francisco Labor Council, PGFTU and a mobilization of Palestinian activists. Some 1,200 protesters picketed SSA gates as longshoremen honored the picket line based on the “health and safety” provision of the contract.
BDS Won’t End Israeli Occupation – It Didn’t Bring Down South African Apartheid
The BDS call for an ongoing boycott of all Israeli shipping is illusory, misguided and would, in reality, undermine international labor solidarity, aside from penalizing Oakland longshore workers who have already sacrificed wages by supporting the protests. Even the BDS in Palestine does not support an ongoing ship boycott. And what of Palestinians who work for Israeli companies in Israel and in Palestinian territories. Should they quit their jobs or demand the companies close? Consumer boycotts have proven ineffective and cultural boycotts would prevent anti-Zionist professors from speaking at Israeli universities. In the U.S. and Canada professors of Palestinian descent are increasingly under attack by Zionists for their pro-Palestinian views and must be defended. The other two pillars of the BDS campaign are based on illusions that capitalists and their imperialist government’s can be made to withdraw support for the proxy that does their bloody bidding in the Near East, the Zionist state of Israel. The imperialist U.S. government, the biggest war criminal of all, sends over $3 billion dollars in military aid to Israel. BDS won’t stop that.
The racist South African apartheid regime was brought down not by a liberal BDS campaign but especially by waves of militant strikes by the black working class. The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) continues that class struggle today by giving no support to the ANC Tripartite government responsible for the 2012 massacre of striking Marikana miners. They call for building a workers party to advance the struggle and nationalize the mines under workers control.
A serious working class program to end Zionist depredation of the Palestinian people would require Palestinian and Israeli workers linking up in a struggle against their common enemies, the Israeli and Arab capitalists to end the blockade of Gaza and illegal Israeli settlements, to tear down the West Bank “apartheid wall” and the exclusionary, inherently anti-democratic Zionist state. The right of return for Palestinians can only be won on a socialist basis of sharing the checkerboard land of interpenetrated peoples. The call must go beyond freeing, isolated Bantustans in Gaza and the West Bank and for a single workers state, a socially integrated Palestine, as part of a socialist federation of the Near East.
Already Israeli port workers in Haifa have struck twice in October against the capitalists’s port privatization plans. And the racist Netanyahu’s expansionist settlements and anti-Islamist provocations in Jerusalem must be stopped. But how? In the early stages of the Israeli state, Palestinian and Israeli workers engaged in joint strikes against their bosses. And it was not that long ago that ostensibly Marxist Palestinian parties existed where now Islamist and nationalist parties dominate. That political landscape can change through a common class struggle of the Palestinian and Israeli workers against their common oppressors backed up by real international labor solidarity in action.
Solidarity to Stop Zionist Attacks and Defend ILWU Against PMA
The actions of Oakland longshore workers in solidarity with their sisters and brothers under the Zionist guns in Palestine is a vivid proof of the power of workers solidarity action. If these actions are to be repeated on the West Coast and around the world, then it is high time to use that power in support of ILWU longshore workers as they face the PMA bosses’ offensive of harassment and arbitrary firings. They supported the protesters picket lines. Now the protesters must offer to mobilize support if longshore workers set up picket lines in their struggle. Union waterfront workers have the power and they should use it now to smash the PMA’s union-busting offensive. But the ILWU International leadership has abandoned its union’s proud legacy of the working class fighting to defend its own interests and those of all the oppressed, as indicated by their press statements distancing union support for the anti-Zim protesters. What’s needed above all is a union leadership committed to mobilizing the power of class struggle rather than seeking refuge in the dead-end of class collaboration. The way to forge that leadership is in the heat of the labor battles which are now upon us.
Jack Heyman, chair of the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee, is a retired Oakland longshoreman. He has helped organize many of the ILWU dock protests since the 1984 anti-apartheid boycott action.

Tags: Zimilwulabor boycott
Categories: Labor News

Nigeria: Leaders of Parliamentary Workers Demanding Unpaid Salaries Arrested

Labourstart.org News - Wed, 11/12/2014 - 16:00
LabourStart headline - Source: allAfrica
Categories: Labor News

Qatar: ‘World Cup slavery’ is still rampant in Qatar

Labourstart.org News - Wed, 11/12/2014 - 16:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Middle East Eye
Categories: Labor News

Local 502 four-year donation total to Vancouver Children’s Hospital tops $126,000

ILWU - Wed, 11/12/2014 - 12:05

For the fourth straight year, Local 502 members have raised funds for the British Columbia Children’s Hospital. Every year the fundraising effort has beaten previous records. This year the record was beaten by $9,000; Local 502 members raised $41,502 which brings the four-year total to $126,008.

“This is a collective effort in which everyone digs deep to help. From the newest casual recruit to the most senior member, everyone really puts their heart and soul into this fundraising drive,” said Bal Singh Sanghera.

“Our executive and officers worked hard to make it a success. The fundraising team is humbled by the support and commitment we received.”

A team of volunteers along with BA Rocky Thompson made an appearance on live TV to present the donation. The Telethon is broadcast throughout British Columbia and viewed by millions.

The generosity of ILWU members is greatly appreciated by the hospital. The annual Telethon helps to fund and provide medical aid that is not subsidized by the government.

Lauren Wagner from the Children’s Hospital stated, “The donations have helped in pediatric cancer research including the discovery of a new drug with no side effects that has improved the three-year survival rate from 20% to 75%, and enabled us to upgrade and purchase over 55 pieces of equipment including the EEG/ICU inpatient monitoring system in the Pediatric ICU. The time, energy and dedication that you put into organizing your team’s fundraising activities are not only inspiring but greatly appreciated. It’s my honor to recognize and thank you for your achievement and for making a difference.”

Categories: Unions

Port of Anacortes contract fight expands

ILWU - Wed, 11/12/2014 - 11:09

Community members put up a picket line which shut down loading operations.

Hundreds of visitors attending the Port of Anacortes “Bier on the Pier” festival and “Floating Boat Show” in early October encountered a giant banner with a hard-hitting message: “Port of Anacortes: blowing your tax dollars, unfair to maintenance workers, accountability now!”

The banner and public outreach materials were distributed by a dozen Port workers, local community members, supporters from ILWU Local 25, the Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU), Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 191, Carpenters Local 756, plus staff and volunteers from “We Do the Work” radio. Visitors attending the events showed concern about problems being raised by Port workers. Hundreds accepted leaflets explaining how maintenance workers at the Port are trying to keep things running safely and smoothly – while Port bureaucrats are breaking labor laws and wasting public funds.

Last November, the Port’s maintenance workers voted to join ILWU Local 25. They made their decision after facing years of mismanagement and abusive treatment from Port supervisors.

Instead of honoring the workers’ decision and cooperating with employees, managers ordered workers to attend mandatory meetings with Port executives who threatened union= supporters for wearing ILWU buttons. The Port workers held their ground.

“We refused to be intimidated, stood up together for respect, and voted to form our union after the managers illegally threatened us,” said Mike Wray, a Port maintenance employee.

The Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) ruled in September that Port management acted improperly and outside the law. “The State validated what workers and community members have been saying publicly for= months now,” said Dave Bost, one of several maintenance workers who was threatened by Port managers.

After winning their union election, maintenance workers began to seek afair contract – while management continued violating the law.

Port managers illegally changed the employees’ health plan; eliminated parking options for maintenance workers and obstructed union testimony before state investigators – by allowing a management witnesses to stay on the clock while Local 25 members were forced to use vacation, unpaid or comp time to testify in a PERC hearing over illegal management activity.

Port administrators recently admitted to a local newspaper that they’ve spent over $50,000 in public funds so far on private lawyers to negotiate a simple contract with employees. As of November, community members estimate that the Port’s legal fees are approaching $100,000.

During the summer and fall months, union and community members packed six separate Port Commission meetings to offer public support and solidarity for the Local 25 maintenance workers. Supporters criticized the anti-union tactics used by managers and demanded more accountability from the Commission. Speakers included members of the IBU, Pacific Coast Pensioners Association, Skagit Valley Labor Democrats, Carpenters Locals 70 and 756, Fire Fighters Local 1537, WA State Council of Fire Fighters, IBEW Local 191, Laborers Local 292, and SEIU Local 925. Letters of support for the maintenance workers were sent to the Commission by officials from ILWU Canada, Steel Workers 12-591 and WA State Representative Kristine Lytton.

Despite hearing strong support from the public, the Commissioners decided to played defense and do some damage control by inviting the Port’s Executive Director and lawyer to testify at length in late September. The duo downplayed management’s violations and offered misinformation about working conditions and the contract talks.

Union members and supporters decided it was time to take the fight outside the hearing room, launching public leaflet actions and banner displays at major Port events during the first week of October.

“Someone has to hold management accountable,” said Tyler Ashbach, a Business Agent for ILWU Local 25. “If the elected Port Commissioners won’t do it, then it’s up to Port workers and our Anacortes community.”

Community members set up a picket line on October 2nd at the Port’s main industrial loading operation. ILWU Local 25 Longshore members honored it, delaying the transfer of industrial coke onto a barge at the pier. This was the second time that Longshore members recognized a picket line, following a similar incident in July.

At the October 2 Port Commission meeting, Commissioner Keith Rubin stated, “I believe we have a problem here at the Port of Anacortes.” He noted that “workers who feel like they’re getting a fair deal don’t organize a new Port bargaining unit.”

Similar concerns were echoed by lifelong Anacortes resident Tom Montgomery, a retired 35-year Shell Oil refinery worker. “I’ve always been proud of the Port and always supported your mission of producing and supporting new and long-time family wage-jobs—that is, until now,” he told Commissioners. “I’m appalled at the actions of the Port Director and his assistant during the last several months, specifically where it concerns their handling of the so-called ‘ongoing negotiations.”

Local 19 member Rich Austin, Jr. also testified at the hearing, noting his experience as a volunteer who is helping the Port workers with their contract negotiations. “There’s been avoidance to bargain by the Port, based on the schedule of their attorney,” he said, explaining how workers have made many lengthy trips to accommodate the schedule of the Port’s expensive private attorney. “We’re serious about getting a contract and are willing to drive there,” adding that the Commission should get more involved to help reach a resolution.

Commissioner Rubin directed his final comments on the Port management. “We have a culture where we treat our local ILWU folks like a necessary evil rather than a partner, and I think that needs to change…I think that needs to change at the top,” he said.

Port worker Tyler Ashbach said he was pleased to hear productive comments coming from the Commissioners, and believes it indicates “we are on the right track” thanks to solidarity and community support.

Categories: Unions

Freight Groups Ask White House for West Coast Port Talks Mediator

Teamsters for a Democratic Union - Wed, 11/12/2014 - 07:08
Rip WatsonTransport TopicsNovember 12, 2014View the original piece

More than 100 groups that are concerned about the direction of newly contentious West Coast port contract talks asked President Obama to name a federal mediator to foster a settlement.

“While the parties to the negotiation stated earlier this year that they would continue operations throughout the negotiations, we have seen crisis levels of congestion at the ports since September,” said the letter signed by American Trucking Associations, the National Retail Federation and the Transportation Intermediaries Association. “Both parties recently issued press releases accusing each other of reneging on this commitment.”

Earlier this week, the Pacific Maritime Association, the management negotiators representing ocean carriers and terminal operators, claimed the International Longshore & Warehouse Union orchestrated slowdowns in Pacific Northwest ports. After the union denied that was the first public outburst since talks began, PMA said similar disruptions began in Los Angeles and Long Beach, the largest U.S. ports.

“The sudden change in tone is alarming and suggests that a full shutdown of every West Coast port may be imminent,” said the letter, also signed by the Retail Industry Leaders Association and groups representing importers of goods including shoes and wood products. “The impact this would have on jobs, downstream consumers, and the business operations of exporters, importers, retailers, transportation providers, manufacturers and other stakeholders would be catastrophic.”

There was no immediate comment from the White House.

The six-year port contract expired July 1. Talks began six months ago. The groups expressed concern that there could be a repetition of a 2002 lockout, which for 10 days paralyzed freight transport in the world’s largest consumer market.

Issues: Freight
Categories: Labor News, Unions

Boston’s parking attendants unionizing

Teamsters for a Democratic Union - Wed, 11/12/2014 - 07:02
Katie JohnstonThe Boston GlobeNovember 12, 2014View the original piece

Parking attendants around Boston, many of them from East Africa, say they face third-world conditions performing one of the faceless jobs of a first-world economy: parking cars for office workers and visitors in Boston’s booming downtown.

Paid just a dollar or two above minimum wage, the attendants say they are confined to tiny booths, alternately freezing or sweltering with the weather and enduring long shifts with little or no chance for a bathroom break.

Click here to read more at The Boston Globe.

Issues: Labor Movement
Categories: Labor News, Unions

American Airlines flight attendants reject contract

Current News - Tue, 11/11/2014 - 16:37

American Airlines flight attendants reject contract
By Shannon Jones 
11 November 2014
http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/11/11/apfa-n11.html
Flight attendants at American Airlines and US Airways rejected a new five-year labor agreement recommended by their union, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA). The final tally was close, with 8,196 voting against the sellout deal and 8,180 voting for it.
The two airlines merged in December 2013 to create the world’s largest air carrier. The merger followed a bankruptcy filing by American in 2011, which saw savage cuts imposed on pilots, mechanics, ground crew and flight attendants. Since emerging from bankruptcy American’s profits have soared. It earned a record profit of $1.2 billion in the third quarter of 2013, up from $771 million a year earlier.
The contract talks will now go to binding arbitration under terms of a “protocol” agreed to by the APFA. The process is set to begin in December. The deal ultimately decided by the arbitrator will then be imposed on flight attendants without a vote. APFA said that until the new contract is imposed, flight attendants will continue to work under terms of the old agreement.
There were two separate agreements for flight attendants working for American and those employed by US Airways covering some 24,000 workers. The new contract would have put both groups under the same agreement.
When the tentative agreement was announced on September 19 flight attendants reacted immediately with strong criticism, pointing out that it failed to restore previous concessions under conditions where the airlines were making vast profits. In response APFA officials issued a statement defending their proposal, claiming they had “squeezed every possible dollar from this company, compromised only when absolutely necessary, and achieved the best contract possible.”
The union bureaucrats went on to threaten that workers would only get a worse deal if they rejected it. “Voting no will simply result in at least $82 million annually in cuts to the [tentative agreement]. The arbitration will focus on whether the cuts should come out of areas such as wages, vacation days or 401(k) contributions.”
The union had argued that the deal that was rejected would have provided $193 million in “added value” to the current agreement. Arbitration, APFA said, would cap the contract at $111 million, the average amount that the existing contracts at other major air carriers exceeded that of American flight attendants. According to a 2013 memorandum of understanding, a joint agreement would give flight attendants an “industry standard” contract.
Online comments from flight attendants, however, reveal that the deal was a slap in the face for workers who have suffered years of wage, benefit and work rule concessions.
An “open letter” from an American flight attendant posted by the Dallas News noted that the merged company was making enormous profits. It continued, “It is hard to imagine why you would give us a contract that would essentially give us a pay cut. It is almost impossible to believe, but we are offered similar pay as 10 years ago, without added pay raise to [offset] the cost of living.”
In another comment, Luis Chang, identified as an American Airlines flight attendant for 26 years, wrote, “Along with my colleagues I have endured 11 years of abuse and two major devastating pay cuts since 2003. ...What we are asked to ratify today as this “industry-leading” contract is not a snapback to our pre 9/11 contract, worse yet, it introduces even further work rule and flexibility concessions, and eliminates our employee group from profit sharing now that the new American Airlines is out of bankruptcy and set to make record profits. This Tentative Agreement is an absolute insult to all of us and an obvious failure of [APFA President] Laura Glading to lead our new contract negotiations.”
The rejection vote came two days before American was set to issue a contract proposal to the Allied Pilots Association. The merged company will also negotiate a contract with ground crew workers represented jointly by the Transport Workers Union and the International Association of Machinists.
In 2003, American used the threat of bankruptcy to extract $1.8 billion in concessions from employees. At the same time American set up a secret executive retirement program with the specific stipulation that it would not be subject to the claims of creditors in the event of bankruptcy.
In 2011 the company filed for bankruptcy with the specific aim of voiding its labor contracts and imposing cuts. It used the courts to freeze its defined benefit pension program and substitute an inferior 401(k) defined contribution plan. Meanwhile, former CEO Thomas Horton, the American executive who oversaw the bankruptcy, received a severance package of about $17 million.
As for US Airways, it filed for bankruptcy in 2002. In 2005 a bankruptcy judge voided the company’s labor agreements, opening the door to thousands of job cuts and pay and benefit cuts of between six and 35 percent. The court also terminated retiree pension plans.
The contract further exposes the role of the airline unions, which function as little more than an arm of corporate management. Over the past decades they have worked with management to unload the burden of the crisis and reorganization of the airline industry onto the shoulders of workers, who are increasingly resisting these attacks.
A report in the April 29, 2014 issue of Forbes magazine provides details of the incestuous relations between the unions and American Airlines. It notes that all three unions at American knew about and approved the bonus for American CEO Horton and agreed to contract language “gagging” workers from complaining about excessive executive bonuses. It suggested that the deal was a “quid pro quo” for reimbursing millions to the unions in bankruptcy-related expenses.
Union executives, including APFA President Glading, received a designation A-5 travel pass enabling them to fly first class to any place in the world at any time and even bump full fare passengers. On top of this, the article reports the company doles out gifts and perks to union executives in the form of free airline travel, meals and baseball tickets.

Tags: AAcontract rejection
Categories: Labor News

Denmark: Women protest 17 per cent pay gap

Labourstart.org News - Tue, 11/11/2014 - 16:00
LabourStart headline - Source: The Star-Phoenix
Categories: Labor News

India: Public sector bank employees go on strike to press for wage revision

Labourstart.org News - Tue, 11/11/2014 - 16:00
LabourStart headline - Source: The Hindu
Categories: Labor News

Global: The other Global Summit in Brisbane, Australia, this week

Labourstart.org News - Tue, 11/11/2014 - 16:00
LabourStart headline - Source: This Working Life
Categories: Labor News

Global: The G20 needs to make the world’s economy work for working people

Labourstart.org News - Tue, 11/11/2014 - 16:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Equal Times
Categories: Labor News

Toronto’s Harm Reduction Workers Unite!

IWW - Tue, 11/11/2014 - 13:39

TORONTO, ON - Harm reduction workers from across the city announced today that they have formed the Toronto Harm Reduction Workers Union (THRWU), an affiliate of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Workers from South Riverdale Community Health Centre and Central Toronto Community Health Centres are the first to announce their affiliations with the union, and have demanded that their managements recognize the union and commit to negotiating with them. Already claiming over 50 members, the Toronto Harm Reduction Workers Union is the first of it’s kind in the world.

read more

Categories: Unions

$50 Million Teamster Win in Louisville

Teamsters for a Democratic Union - Tue, 11/11/2014 - 12:37

November 11, 2014: Louisville Local 89 and Teamster carhaulers have won a strike victory at Ford in Louisville, despite getting no support from the Hoffa administration.

Teamsters who transport vehicles from the Ford assembly plant to the rails in Louisville have won a victory—and they have won big.

Their victory puts an end to a dirty deal cut between Ford and contractor Voith Industrial in early 2012, which dumped 161 Teamsters who made $20 an hour and replaced them with newly-hired workers making $11-$14 an hour.

The Hoffa administration delayed and denied strike sanction to Local 89 and blocked its leadership from negotiating a solution with the UAW.

But that didn’t stop Teamsters Local 89.

First, the local won multiple unfair labor practice charges at the NLRB against Voith. Then Local 89 finished the job on the picket line. 

It took Local 89 members just four days to win — once the Hoffa administration stopped delaying strike sanction.

Now 161 Teamsters who were on the original seniority board are returning to work with full back pay, benefits, and restoration of their seniority.

Eighty-four more workers hired by Voith since the dispute began in 2012 will get backpay for the wages and benefits they were entitled to under the national carhaul contract too.

The total price tag could surpass $50 million in backpay and benefits; the NLRB will determine the final figure.

Ford has also severed it relationship with Voith. Local 89 Teamsters will be employed by RCS Transportation going forward.

Congratulations to the Local 89 leadership and members. Their victory shows what Teamster power can be.

One local union and its united members defeat a sweetheart arrangement, save over 200 jobs, with full backpay and benefits.

By comparison, Hoffa’s International Union Carhaul Director did nothing while Ford and Voith teamed up in a similar scheme to put Teamster carhaulers in the street in Michigan.

Teamster power in Louisville. A Teamster power outage at the International. It’s time for change.

Click here to read the report on the Local 89 website.

Issues: CarhaulLabor Movement
Categories: Labor News, Unions

West Coast port slowdown raises fears of dockworker strike or lockout

Current News - Tue, 11/11/2014 - 04:14

West Coast port slowdown raises fears of dockworker strike or lockout
http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-port-negotiations-20141111-story.html

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-port-negotiations-20141111-story.html

A container ship is docked at the Port of Los Angeles on Terminal Island. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
By ANDREW KHOURI
A six-year agreement covering nearly 20,000 dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports expired July 1
Business groups are urging that a federal mediator help the two sides in port negotiations reach an agreement
For months, contract negotiations between a powerful union and multinational shipping lines progressed amicably in public, even though roughly 20,000 West Coast dockworkers labored without a contract.
Now the public harmony has been shattered, raising fears that a strike or lockout could close ports up and down the coast and cause economic pain.
The Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents employers operating port terminals and shipping lines, has accused the International Longshore and Warehouse Union of deliberately slowing operations at four major West Coast ports, including Los Angeles and Long Beach — the nation's busiest complex.

The union, in turn, has expressed mounting irritation with a lack of progress toward a new contract. On Monday, the union decried what it called management's "deceitful media tactics," which the union said are designed to blame it for brutal congestion at West Coast ports.
The public sniping, experts said, signals that both sides have grown frustrated and probably have come to an impasse at the negotiating table.
"The risk of disruption at West Coast ports by Thanksgiving is increasing day by day," international trade economist Jock O'Connell said.
Noting a tentative agreement on healthcare reached in August, O'Connell said unresolved issues probably involve automation and whether certain jobs will be done off the docks or by the union. During negotiations, management can rely on outside business groups to pressure workers, while the union can push back through slowdowns, O'Connell said.
"Apparently that's what they are doing," he said.
Asked to respond to the slowdown accusations, a union spokesman did not directly address the claims.
"Workers are frustrated because employers have delayed action for years on the underlying issues that created the port congestion … including many of their own making, and have also been delaying resolution of the contract talks for many months," spokesman Craig Merrilees said.
A six-year agreement covering nearly 20,000 dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports expired July 1. The sides have been negotiating since May. In 2002, amid talks for a previous contract, employers accused the union of go-slow tactics, then locked out dockworkers for 10 days, shutting down ports along the West Coast.
Some businesses are worried that ports could be shut down again. In response to rising tensions, the National Retail Federation and other business groups sent a letter Thursday to President Obama, urging that a federal mediator help the two sides reach an agreement.
If there is a slowdown, it's meant to spur the negotiations, not to torpedo them.
- Harley Shaiken, a UC Berkeley professor who specializes in labor issues

"The sudden change in tone is alarming and suggests that a full shutdown of every West Coast port may be imminent," the groups said in their letter. "The impact this would have on jobs, down-stream consumers, and the business operations of exporters, importers, retailers, transportation providers, manufacturers and other stakeholders would be catastrophic."
A shutdown would carry an economic hit; 12.5% of the nation's gross domestic product is linked to cargo flowing through West Coast ports, according to the Pacific Maritime Assn. But just how severe a closure would be is difficult to judge.
During a shutdown, cargo isn't simply dumped into the ocean, complicating accurate estimates of lost economic productivity. Certain food products may perish, but most cargo would be diverted elsewhere or shipped through the West Coast when ports reopened.

That may require discounts, however, and may lead to losses. Furthermore, some workers — including 20,000 dockworkers — would sit idle and not collect a paycheck.
At the twin ports of L.A. and Long Beach, management said the union has refused to dispatch hundreds of skilled workers who operate cranes to lift cargo containers onto trucks and rail cars.
The action, the maritime association said, could cripple the nation's largest port complex, which is already suffering from the worst congestion in a decade. In recent weeks, ships have been anchored off the Los Angeles coastline for days as they wait for cargo languishing on the docks to clear.

The congestion stems from several factors, including a surge of cargo before the holidays, an increase of massive container ships that are deluging the docks with cargo, and a shortage of trailers that truckers use to haul containers from the ports to sprawling warehouses in the Inland Empire.
"This slowdown comes at a very bad time," Pacific Maritime Assn. spokesman Steve Getzug said. The union "didn't create congestion, but this action makes it much, much worse."
Officials at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach said congestion hasn't increased over the last week. Management said the slowdowns began in Tacoma, Wash., on Oct. 31 and spread to Seattle that weekend, with L.A. and Long Beach joining on Nov. 3.
The public sparring, however, doesn't increase the likelihood of a strike or lockout, said Harley Shaiken, a UC Berkeley professor who specializes in labor issues. The fact that both sides have negotiated four months past the contract's expiration shows that workers and management want to come to an agreement without a work stoppage and believe that they can, he said.
West Coast ports face increased competition from facilities nationally and abroad, and neither side wants to give importers and exporters a reason to go elsewhere, Shaiken said.
"If there is a slowdown, it's meant to spur the negotiations, not to torpedo them," he said.
Aside from the contract roadblock, L.A.-area dockworkers may soon face a choice of whether to walk off the job, at least temporarily.
Some port truck drivers told the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners on Friday that they are ready to strike again after they put down picket signs in July after a request from L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. The drivers say several companies continue to improperly classify them as independent contractors, leaving them with fewer workplace protections and lower pay than if they were company employees.
"It's a wild card," Shaiken said. "Will the longshoremen honor the picket lines if they are set up?"
andrew.khouri@latimes.com
Twitter: @khouriandrew

Tags: ilwuWest Coast Longshore ContractPMA
Categories: Labor News

West Coast port slowdown raises fears of ILWU dockworker strike or lockout

Current News - Tue, 11/11/2014 - 03:51

West Coast port slowdown raises fears of ILWU dockworker strike or lockout

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-port-negotiations-20141111-story.html

A container ship is docked at the Port of Los Angeles on Terminal Island. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
By ANDREW KHOURI

A six-year agreement covering nearly 20,000 dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports expired July 1

Business groups are urging that a federal mediator help the two sides in port negotiations reach an agreement

For months, contract negotiations between a powerful union and multinational shipping lines progressed amicably in public, even though roughly 20,000 West Coast dockworkers labored without a contract.
Now the public harmony has been shattered, raising fears that a strike or lockout could close ports up and down the coast and cause economic pain.
The Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents employers operating port terminals and shipping lines, has accused the International Longshore and Warehouse Union of deliberately slowing operations at four major West Coast ports, including Los Angeles and Long Beach — the nation's busiest complex.

The union, in turn, has expressed mounting irritation with a lack of progress toward a new contract. On Monday, the union decried what it called management's "deceitful media tactics," which the union said are designed to blame it for brutal congestion at West Coast ports.
The public sniping, experts said, signals that both sides have grown frustrated and probably have come to an impasse at the negotiating table.
"The risk of disruption at West Coast ports by Thanksgiving is increasing day by day," international trade economist Jock O'Connell said.
Noting a tentative agreement on healthcare reached in August, O'Connell said unresolved issues probably involve automation and whether certain jobs will be done off the docks or by the union. During negotiations, management can rely on outside business groups to pressure workers, while the union can push back through slowdowns, O'Connell said.
"Apparently that's what they are doing," he said.
Asked to respond to the slowdown accusations, a union spokesman did not directly address the claims.
"Workers are frustrated because employers have delayed action for years on the underlying issues that created the port congestion … including many of their own making, and have also been delaying resolution of the contract talks for many months," spokesman Craig Merrilees said.
A six-year agreement covering nearly 20,000 dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports expired July 1. The sides have been negotiating since May. In 2002, amid talks for a previous contract, employers accused the union of go-slow tactics, then locked out dockworkers for 10 days, shutting down ports along the West Coast.
Some businesses are worried that ports could be shut down again. In response to rising tensions, the National Retail Federation and other business groups sent a letter Thursday to President Obama, urging that a federal mediator help the two sides reach an agreement.
If there is a slowdown, it's meant to spur the negotiations, not to torpedo them.
- Harley Shaiken, a UC Berkeley professor who specializes in labor issues

"The sudden change in tone is alarming and suggests that a full shutdown of every West Coast port may be imminent," the groups said in their letter. "The impact this would have on jobs, down-stream consumers, and the business operations of exporters, importers, retailers, transportation providers, manufacturers and other stakeholders would be catastrophic."
A shutdown would carry an economic hit; 12.5% of the nation's gross domestic product is linked to cargo flowing through West Coast ports, according to the Pacific Maritime Assn. But just how severe a closure would be is difficult to judge.
During a shutdown, cargo isn't simply dumped into the ocean, complicating accurate estimates of lost economic productivity. Certain food products may perish, but most cargo would be diverted elsewhere or shipped through the West Coast when ports reopened.

That may require discounts, however, and may lead to losses. Furthermore, some workers — including 20,000 dockworkers — would sit idle and not collect a paycheck.
At the twin ports of L.A. and Long Beach, management said the union has refused to dispatch hundreds of skilled workers who operate cranes to lift cargo containers onto trucks and rail cars.
The action, the maritime association said, could cripple the nation's largest port complex, which is already suffering from the worst congestion in a decade. In recent weeks, ships have been anchored off the Los Angeles coastline for days as they wait for cargo languishing on the docks to clear.

The congestion stems from several factors, including a surge of cargo before the holidays, an increase of massive container ships that are deluging the docks with cargo, and a shortage of trailers that truckers use to haul containers from the ports to sprawling warehouses in the Inland Empire.
"This slowdown comes at a very bad time," Pacific Maritime Assn. spokesman Steve Getzug said. The union "didn't create congestion, but this action makes it much, much worse."
Officials at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach said congestion hasn't increased over the last week. Management said the slowdowns began in Tacoma, Wash., on Oct. 31 and spread to Seattle that weekend, with L.A. and Long Beach joining on Nov. 3.
The public sparring, however, doesn't increase the likelihood of a strike or lockout, said Harley Shaiken, a UC Berkeley professor who specializes in labor issues. The fact that both sides have negotiated four months past the contract's expiration shows that workers and management want to come to an agreement without a work stoppage and believe that they can, he said.
West Coast ports face increased competition from facilities nationally and abroad, and neither side wants to give importers and exporters a reason to go elsewhere, Shaiken said.
"If there is a slowdown, it's meant to spur the negotiations, not to torpedo them," he said.
Aside from the contract roadblock, L.A.-area dockworkers may soon face a choice of whether to walk off the job, at least temporarily.
Some port truck drivers told the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners on Friday that they are ready to strike again after they put down picket signs in July after a request from L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. The drivers say several companies continue to improperly classify them as independent contractors, leaving them with fewer workplace protections and lower pay than if they were company employees.
"It's a wild card," Shaiken said. "Will the longshoremen honor the picket lines if they are set up?"
andrew.khouri@latimes.com
Twitter: @khouriandrew

Tags: ILWU West Coast ContractLockoutPMA
Categories: Labor News

Port of L.A. truck drivers say they are ready to strike again

Current News - Mon, 11/10/2014 - 20:51

Port of L.A. truck drivers say they are ready to strike again
http://mynewsla.com/government/2014/11/07/port-l-truck-drivers-say-ready...
POSTED BY JOHN SCHREIBER ON NOVEMBER 7, 2014 IN GOVERNMENT | 1,096 VIEWS | LEAVE A RESPONSE

A container ship is loaded at the Port of Los Angeles. Photo by John Schreiber.
Port truck drivers urged the Harbor Commission Friday to take steps against companies they allege have been misclassifying them as independent contractors, stealing wages and firing dozens of workers in retaliation, while the Port of Los Angeles’s top official promised solutions are on the way.
Truck drivers told Harbor Commissioners they were ready to begin striking again, saying they have been retaliated against by their employers even after they stopped picketing this summer at the request of Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Amilcar Cardona was fired by Green Fleet Systems, which had been employing him as an independent contractor. He returned to work today — as an employee, this time — thanks to a court injunction, but he said the mistreatment continues and demanded the mayor and harbor officials take action.
“I wanted you to be aware that very soon we will go on strike,” he said. “I am asking, please do something, because the court has already decided I am an employee.”
Representatives for the trucking companies were not immediately available for comment.
Harbor Department Executive Director Gene Seroka, citing his own family’s affiliations with the Teamsters and union organizing, said at the meeting he understands the drivers’ plight and promised that “we will find ways to help.”
He said the port benefits if workers are paid fair wages, “so we’re in alignment on that.”
The Harbor Department has been working with city officials and the mayor to come up with “plausible solutions,” Seroka said, and there have been discussions with truck drivers about “alternative solutions, of which I think we will have some momentum on in the weeks ahead.”
Garcetti brokered a “cooling off” period this past summer between the drivers and their employers, Green Fleet Systems, Total Transportation Services, Inc. and Pacific 9 Transportation.
He also instructed the Harbor Department to look into the trucker drivers’ allegations. Harbor officials said today a report on that review is expected to be ready by December.
Commissioner Patricia Castellanos voiced sympathy for the truck drivers, saying “this continues to be an outrage that this is still happening … and that drivers are still having to experience these conditions,” which includes workers taking home negative paychecks.
“As far as I can tell, these drivers respected that cooling-off period for the last few months,” by not picketing the port’s terminals and not going on strike, “yet during that same period, I also understand 35 drivers have been fired in retaliation for their activities,” Castellanos said.
With the court battle that ultimately resulted in two workers returning to work today taking nine to 10 months to complete, “I cannot in good conscience ask these drivers to be patient,” Castellanos said.
“It is very clear that the actions that their employers are taking is what’s causing them to take even further action,” she said.
— City News Service

Tags: LA Port Truckersteamstersindependent contractors
Categories: Labor News

The Knowledge, London’s Legendary Taxi-Driver Test, Puts Up a Fight in the Age of GPS

Current News - Mon, 11/10/2014 - 17:28

The Knowledge, London’s Legendary Taxi-Driver Test, Puts Up a Fight in the Age of GPS

http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/10/london-taxi-test-knowledge...
BY JODY ROSEN NOVEMBER 10, 2014 9:00 AM
November 10, 2014 9:00 am
The examination to become a London cabby is possibly the most difficult test in the world — demanding years of study to memorize the labyrinthine city’s 25,000 streets and any business or landmark on them. As GPS and Uber imperil this tradition, is there an argument for learning as an end in itself?
The posterior hippocampus, the area of the brain known to be important for memory, is bigger in London taxi drivers than in most people.
Credit
Photograph by Anthony Cotsifas. Prop stylist: Victoria Petro Conroy
At 10 past 6 on a January morning a couple of winters ago, a 35-year-old man named Matt McCabe stepped out of his house in the town of Kenley, England, got on his Piaggio X8 motor scooter, and started driving north. McCabe’s destination was Stour Road, a small street in a desolate patch of East London, 20 miles from his suburban home. He began his journey by following the A23, a major thruway connecting London with its southern outskirts, whose origins are thought to be ancient: For several miles the road follows the straight line of the Roman causeway that stretched from London to Brighton. McCabe exited the A23 in the South London neighborhood of Streatham and made his way through the streets, arriving, about 20 minutes after he set out, at an intersection officially called Windrush Square but still referred to by locals, and on most maps, as Brixton Oval. There, McCabe faced a decision: how to plot his route across the River Thames. Should he proceed more or less straight north and take London Bridge, or bear right into Coldharbour Lane and head for “the pipe,” the Rotherhithe Tunnel, which snakes under the Thames two miles downriver?
“At first I thought I’d go for London Bridge,” McCabe said later. “Go straight up Brixton Road to Kennington Park Road and then work my line over. I knew that I could make my life a lot easier, to not have to waste brainpower thinking about little roads — doing left-rights, left-rights. And then once I’d get over London Bridge, it’d be a quick trip: I’d work it up to Bethnal Green Road, Old Ford Road, and boom-boom-boom, I’m there. It’s a no-brainer. But no. I was thinking about the traffic, about everyone going to the City at that hour of the morning. I thought, ‘What can I do to skirt central London?’ That was my key decision point. I didn’t want to sit in the traffic lights. So I decided to take Coldharbour Lane and head for the pipe.”
McCabe turned east on Coldharbour Lane, wending through the neighborhoods of Peckham and Bermondsey before reaching the tunnel. He emerged on the far side of the Thames in Limehouse, and from there his three-mile-long trip followed a zigzagging path northeast. “I came out of the tunnel and went forward into Yorkshire Road,” he told me. “I went right into Salmon Lane. Left into Rhodeswell Road, right into Turners Road. I went right into St. Paul’s Way, left into Burdett Road, right into Mile End Road. Left Tredegar Square. I went right Morgan Street, left Coborn Road, right into Tredegar Road. That gave me a forward into Wick Lane, a right into Monier Road, right into Smeed Road — and we’re there. Left into Stour
Over three years, Matt McCabe logged more than 50,000 miles on motorbike and foot within the city, the equivalent of two circumnavigations of the Earth, while studying to become a London taxi driver.
Credit
Rory Van Millingen
We were there, on Stour Road. It was a cold day, with temperatures hovering just above freezing, and snow in the forecast. For McCabe, on his bike, the wind chill made it feel considerably colder. He was dressed for the weather: a thermal shirt, a sweater, an insulated raincoat, Gore-Tex pants pulled over his jeans, gloves, work boots, a knit cap under his motorcycle helmet. McCabe is a tall man, about 6-foot-2, and he is solidly built, like a central defender on a soccer team. He’s handsome, with a wide smile and blond hair. He speaks in short sentences, snappy and definitive, especially when talking about London. We were in Hackney Wick, an industrial area adjacent to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, where the 2012 Olympic Games were held. Stour Road sits in a particularly remote corner of the neighborhood — a few wind-lashed streets, lined with warehouses, hemmed in by canals and a highway flyover.
“They call this area Fish Island,” McCabe said. “I’m not much of a fisherman, but many of the roads here are named for fishes — freshwater fishes, I believe. So just here you’ve got Bream Street.” He gestured down a road where a lumberyard was set back behind a corrugated metal fence. “Follow that to the end, you’ll come to Dace Road. You’ve got Roach Road. All names of fishes.”
McCabe had spent the last three years of his life thinking about London’s roads and landmarks, and how to navigate between them. In the process, he had logged more than 50,000 miles on motorbike and on foot, the equivalent of two circumnavigations of the Earth, nearly all within inner London’s dozen boroughs and the City of London financial district. He was studying to be a London taxi driver, devoting himself full-time to the challenge that would earn him a cabby’s “green badge” and put him behind the wheel of one of the city’s famous boxy black taxis.
Actually, “challenge” isn’t quite the word for the trial a London cabby endures to gain his qualification. It has been called the hardest test, of any kind, in the world. Its rigors have been likened to those required to earn a degree in law or medicine. It is without question a unique intellectual, psychological and physical ordeal, demanding unnumbered thousands of hours of immersive study, as would-be cabbies undertake the task of committing to memory the entirety of London, and demonstrating that mastery through a progressively more difficult sequence of oral examinations — a process which, on average, takes four years to complete, and for some, much longer than that. The guidebook issued to prospective cabbies by London Taxi and Private Hire (LTPH), which oversees the test, summarizes the task like this:
To achieve the required standard to be licensed as an “All London” taxi driver you will need a thorough knowledge, primarily, of the area within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross. You will need to know: all the streets; housing estates; parks and open spaces; government offices and departments; financial and commercial centres; diplomatic premises; town halls; registry offices; hospitals; places of worship; sports stadiums and leisure centres; airline offices; stations; hotels; clubs; theatres; cinemas; museums; art galleries; schools; colleges and universities; police stations and headquarters buildings; civil, criminal and coroner’s courts; prisons; and places of interest to tourists. In fact, anywhere a taxi passenger might ask to be taken.
If anything, this description understates the case. The six-mile radius from Charing Cross, the putative center-point of London marked by an equestrian statue of King Charles I, takes in some 25,000 streets. London cabbies need to know all of those streets, and how to drive them — the direction they run, which are one-way, which are dead ends, where to enter and exit traffic circles, and so on. But cabbies also need to know everything on the streets. Examiners may ask a would-be cabby to identify the location of any restaurant in London. Any pub, any shop, any landmark, no matter how small or obscure — all are fair game. Test-takers have been asked to name the whereabouts of flower stands, of laundromats, of commemorative plaques. One taxi driver told me that he was asked the location of a statue, just a foot tall, depicting two mice sharing a piece of cheese. It’s on the facade of a building in Philpot Lane, on the corner of Eastcheap, not far from London Bridge.
If you go to LTPH headquarters, where the examinations are conducted, you will behold a grim bureaucratic scene, not much different than the one you might find in an office devoted to tax audits: nervous test-takers, dressed in suits, shuffling into one-on-one sessions with stone-faced examiners. But for more than a century, since the first green badge was issued to a hackney cabman piloting a horse-drawn carriage, the test has been known by a name that carries a whiff of the occult: the Knowledge of London.
he origins of the Knowledge are unclear — lost in the murk of Victorian municipal history. Some trace the test’s creation to the Great Exhibition of 1851, when London’s Crystal Palace played host to hundreds of thousands of visitors. These tourists, the story goes, inundated the city with complaints about the ineptitude of its cabmen, prompting authorities to institute a more demanding licensing process. The tale may be apocryphal, but it is certain that the Knowledge was in place by 1884: City records for that year contain a reference to 1,931 applicants for the “examination as to the ‘knowledge’ [of]…principal streets and squares and public buildings.”
In 2014, in any case, the Knowledge is steeped in regimens and rituals that have been around as long as anyone can remember. Taxi-driver candidates — known as Knowledge boys and, increasingly today, Knowledge girls — are issued a copy of the so-called “Blue Book.” This guidebook contains a list of 320 “runs,” trips from Point A to Point B: Manor House Station to Gibson Square, Jubilee Gardens to Royal London Hospital, Dryburgh Road to Vicarage Crescent, etc. The candidate embarks on the Knowledge by making these runs — that is, by physically going to Manor House Station and finding the shortest route that can be legally driven to Gibson Square, and then doing the same thing 319 more times, for the other Blue Book runs.
But the Knowledge is not simply a matter of way-finding. The key is a process called “pointing,” studying the stuff on the streets: all those places “a taxi passenger might ask to be taken.” Knowledge boys have developed a system of pointing that some call “satelliting,” whereby the candidate travels in a quarter-mile radius around a run’s starting and finishing points, poking around, identifying landmarks, making notes. By this method, the theory goes, a Knowledge student can commit to memory not just the streets but the streetscape — the curve of the road, the pharmacy on the corner, the mice nibbling on cheese in the architrave.

Decades ago, most Knowledge boys did their runs on bicycles. Now, nearly all test-takers buy or lease motorbikes. In 2014, there are thousands of men and women plying the city’s streets on two wheels, at all hours, in all weather, doing runs and gathering points. It’s a ubiquitous London sight: a Knowledge boy on a bike, with a map or notepad strapped to his Plexiglas windscreen. When the candidate has completed his 320 Blue Book runs — and his accompanying 640 quarter-mile radii point-gathering expeditions — he will have covered the whole of central London. At which time he takes a brief written exam, proceeds to the first stage of the oral examination process, and the test begins in earnest.
The testing takes place at the LTPH office in a series of “appearances,” face-to-face encounters between Knowledge candidate and examiner. The test-taker is asked to “call a run”: to identify the location of two points and to fluidly recite the shortest route between the points, naming all the streets along the way. A Knowledge boy is first given 56 days between appearances to study; then, as he progresses, 28 days, and 21. The questions, meanwhile, get harder, with candidates asked to locate more obscure points and to recite longer, more byzantine journeys across London’s byways. Each appearance consists of four runs, and each run is scored according to an elaborate numerical system. Your total score earns you a letter grade, from AA to D. (AA’s are exceedingly rare; D’s aren’t.) Candidates who acquire too many bad grades are bumped backward — “red-lined” from appearances every 28 days back to every 56 days, or from 21s to 28s. There is no such thing as “failing” the Knowledge. You can either quit, or persevere and pass: proceed all the way through to the end of your 21-day appearances, gaining sufficient points to earn your “req” — to meet the “required standard,” and complete the test.
For Matt McCabe, that goal was within spitting distance. He was
“on 21s, on six points,” making appearances just three weeks apart, with six points on his tally, and only six more needed — just two solid appearances, perhaps, away from getting his req. It was a pointing mission that brought McCabe to Fish Island that morning in January. He’d visited the neighborhood before, but had heard that a new point had come up in a candidate’s appearance a couple of days earlier. So he’d returned to take another look at the area — in particular, at H. Forman & Son, a wholesale fishmonger on Stour Road.
McCabe on a "pointing" mission in Fish Island, an industrial district in East London.
Credit
Jody Rosen
“Forman’s is quite famous,” McCabe said. He was standing outside the H. Forman & Son warehouse, a shedlike structure the size of a small airplane hanger. “They supply fish to the top restaurants in London. But now they’ve opened their own restaurant.” McCabe scrutinized the menu posted on a wall outside the building. He took a note on a small pad: “Chef: Lloyd Hardwick.” Hardwick, McCabe discovered by checking Google, had been the executive chef at the sleek restaurant on the top floor of the Tate Modern museum. “You have to look into these things. You know, the examiner could turn around and say, ‘Name me two Angela Hartnett restaurants,’ or ‘Name me four Gordon Ramsay restaurants.’ ” McCabe showed me a sign indicating that the restaurant also housed an art gallery. “You’ve got to note that. Instead of Formans restaurant, the examiner might give you Forman’s Smokehouse Gallery. That could be enough to throw you off.”
McCabe said: “This is an up-and-coming area. It looks like nothing, you know — but you put a bit of paint on the brickworks, smarten the place up, and all of a sudden it becomes a spot for little boutique stores or the up-and-coming D.J.s. You’ve got warehouse conversions; you’ll see guys coming out of the buildings in the morning — suit-and-tie, briefcase. If you’re driving a cab, you could pick someone up in the City at the end of the day heading back this way.”
McCabe had spent his entire professional life in the building trade. He’d worked alongside his father, an electrical engineer, and then as the owner of his own small firm specializing in roof maintenance, steel work and asbestos removal. He liked the work, but it was grueling — 15 hours days, seven days a week — and the £50,000 ($80,000) he took home wasn’t enough, to his mind, to justify the sacrifices. A job as a taxi driver seemed an attractive alternative. London cabbies are self-employed businessmen who set their own schedules. The metered fares of taxis are high, and drivers keep what they earn. The overhead — the cost of gas and of owning or leasing a taxi — can be steep, but cabbies who put in the hours can make a good living. There are no official statistics, but drivers themselves will tell you that London cabbies can earn around £65,000 per year, about $100,000, while maintaining an enviably flexible schedule. As a cabby, McCabe figured, he could work seven, 10, 15 days straight — and then take four days off to spend time with his wife Katie, a hairdresser, and their children, Archie, 4, and Lulu, 3. He sold his engineering outfit and devoted himself full-time to the Knowledge, living off the savings he’d gained from the sale of his business.
It was now 37 months since he’d paid the £525 enrollment fee to sign on for the test and appearances. “The closer you get, the wearier you are, and the worse you want it,” McCabe said. “You’re carrying all this baggage. Your stress. Worrying about your savings.” McCabe said that he’d spent in excess of £200,000 on the Knowledge, if you factored in his loss of earnings from not working. “I want to be out working again before my kids are at the age where someone will ask: ‘What does your daddy do?’ Right now, they know me as Daddy who drives a motorbike and is always looking at a map. They don’t know me from my past, when I had a business and guys working for me. You want your life back.”

The Knowledge is a uniquely British institution: a democratization of what P. G. Wodehouse winkingly called the feudal spirit, putting an army of hyperefficient Jeeveses on the road, ready to be flagged down by any passing Bertie Wooster.

The Knowledge is notorious for snatching away lives, and for putting minds in a vise grip. “Everything becomes about the Knowledge,” McCabe said. “My wife will be talking to me about plans or the kids, and it’s not even registering what she’s saying. Because all I’m thinking is, ‘I can’t turn right into that road in Hammersmith, can I?’ If you read the paper, or watch the news or a film, you’re looking at the background. ‘Oh, I know that road there.’ ”
McCabe said that he dreamed about the Knowledge: sometimes exhilarating visions of zooming through London streets, more frequently nightmares about unfamiliar roads or disastrous LTPH appearances. Often, McCabe would wake in the middle of the night and hurry downstairs to study the map. In his dining room, there were three maps: two jumbo London street plans — one laminated on the dinner table and one tacked to the wall — and an enlarged view of the W1 postcode, the bustling zone which stretches south from Marylebone to Piccadilly and east to Soho. McCabe had ledgers he’d filled with jottings on topics like “Small and Awkward Squares.” There were also flashcards that McCabe had made up, listing a point on one side (“Tooting Mosque, SW17″) with information about its location and navigation on the other (“Gatton Road, one way, access via Fishponds Road”). McCabe stacked the cards in piles of 300; he had 40,000 in all. His home, he said, had become a library of the Knowledge.

McCabe had ledgers filled with jottings on topics like “Small and Awkward Squares,” and 40,000 flashcards.

But book-learning gets you only so far. “You’ve got to get out on the bike,” McCabe said. When he was doing Blue Book runs, McCabe would ride the streets all night, leaving when his wife got home from work at 9 p.m. and returning at 4 in the morning. Pointing, McCabe told me, can be “very cold, very lonely, very dangerous.” One night, McCabe was out pointing on his motorbike when a driver slammed into him from behind. McCabe went over the roof of the car, but suffered just a few scrapes and bruises. The bike was totaled. “I’m stationary in the filter lane, and the car just came around the bend and hit me,” McCabe said. “This was on a road called Pound Lane. Right across from the fire station at the corner of Harlesden Road.”
As McCabe progressed through the Knowledge, his pointing technique had become more refined. “At the beginning you might go to the Savoy Hotel on the Strand,” he said. “That’s a famous point; everyone knows it. But you start to think: What’s a more obscure point on the Strand? So you’ll pick up the Coal Hole Public House a few doors along. You start looking at George Court and find a little bar called Retro, a gay bar that plays ’80s music. You start thinking about the bits and pieces. I’m at the stage now where I’m looking at a new bar that just opened — inside a cinema. I’m picking up handbag shops, bowling alleys. You learn to kind of savor them little gems.”
It is tempting to interpret the Knowledge as a uniquely British institution: an expression of the national passion for order and competence, and a democratization of what P. G. Wodehouse winkingly called the feudal spirit, putting an army of hyperefficient Jeeveses on the road, ready to be flagged down by any passing Bertie Wooster. But the Knowledge is less a product of the English character than of the torturous London landscape. To be in London is, at least half the time, to have no idea where the hell you are. Every London journey, even the most banal, holds the threat of taking an epic turn: The guy headed to the corner newsagent makes a left where he should have gone right, blunders into an unfamiliar road, and suddenly he is Odysseus adrift on the Acheron. The problem is one of both enormity and density. From the time that London first began to spread beyond the walls surrounding the Roman city, it kept sprawling outward, absorbing villages, enlarging the spider-web snarl of little roads, multiplying the maze. Take a look sometime at a London street map. What a mess: It is a preposterously complex tangle of veins and capillaries, the cardiovascular system of a monster.
All metropolises are quirky, but in most of them efforts have been made to mitigate the idiosyncrasies, to make the cities legible, navigable, beautiful. In Manhattan and Chicago, planners tamed chaos with gridded street schemes; Baron Haussmann obliterated twisty medieval Paris with his sweeping grands boulevards, transforming the city into a linked chain of vistas, plazas and parks. London, though, makes no sense. It was the capital city of the greatest empire in history, yet it doesn’t look or feel imperial. There are miles of monotonous ugliness, disrupted not by splendor, but by gentility — the pretty whitewashed homes and stately squares in the well-heeled districts of West and North London. St. Paul’s Cathedral sits at the back of a small semicircular plaza that is pinned-in by the office towers and bendy streets of the financial district. It is difficult to get a decent view of the most beautiful building in town.
The genius behind St. Paul’s, the architect Christopher Wren, nearly became London’s Haussmann. Just days after the catastrophic Great Fire of 1666, Wren produced a plan to rebuild London as an Italian-style city, with wide boulevards that terminated in piazzas and raised stone quays. But the plan never gained traction. The explanation usually given is economic: If Chicago is an expression of American pragmatism, and Paris an ode to symmetry, then London is a monument to English mercantilism and love of private property, to the power of the bourgeois freeholders and shopkeepers, who clung too tightly to their little patches of land to permit the clearing of space for Wren’s plan. In London, lucre trumps grandeur.

A London street map is a mess: a preposterously complex tangle of veins and capillaries, the cardiovascular system of a monster.

The result is a town that bewilders even its lifelong residents. Londoners, writes Peter Ackroyd, are “a population lost in [their] own city.” London’s labyrinthine roadways are a symbol — and, perhaps, a cause — of the fatalism that hangs like a pea-soup fog over the Londoner’s consciousness. Facing the dizzying infinitude of streets, your mind turns darkly to thoughts of finitude: to the time that is flying, the minutes you are running late for your doctor’s appointment, the hours ticking by, never to be retrieved, on the proverbial Big Clock, the one even bigger than Big Ben. You can see it every day in Primrose Hill and Clapham, in Golders Green and Kentish Town, in Deptford and Dalston. A nervous man, an anxious woman, scanning the horizon for a recognizable landmark, searching for a street sign, silently wondering “Where am I?” — a geographical question that grades gloomily into an existential one.
Which is where the Knowledge comes in. It is a weird city’s weird solution to the riddle of itself, a municipal training program whose graduates are both transit workers and Gnostics: chauffeurs taught by the government to know the unknowable.
I
F you follow your London A-Z Street Atlas halfway up Caledonian Road, in Islington, you’ll find Knowledge Point, the largest of London’s 10 schools dedicated to the test. The school occupies a nondescript two-story building, but you can’t miss it: At all hours of the day, Knowledge boys’ motorbikes line the sidewalk out front. For several years in the 1990s, there was something else parked alongside the bikes: the steed of a mounted Metropolitan Police officer, who did the Knowledge on horseback, after, and during, his working hours.
The school offers specialized lectures on dozens of topics: “Hotels Outside Central London,” “South West London Turnarounds,” “Barracks & Military Establishments,” “Lambeth & Waterloo.” Pupils pick up trade secrets, the aides-mémoires and acronyms that have been passed between generations of Knowledge boys. There’s “Cat Eats Well Then Shares Her Beef Gravy,” a mnemonic denoting a path north from the Aldwych — the crescent-shaped road that loops above the Strand — along a sequence of one-way streets: Catherine, Exeter, Wellington, Tavistock, Southampton, Henrietta, Bedford, Garrick. To access C.A.B. — the Chelsea, Albert, and Battersea bridges — you take C.O.B.: respectively, Chelsea Bridge Road, Oakley Street and Beaufort Street. A series of streets running north to south through Soho — Greek, Frith, Dean, Wardour — are Good For Dirty Women.
But the majority of a student’s time at Knowledge Point is spent in two cramped rooms on the school’s ground floor, where maps are arranged on flat tables and angled easels. These rooms are devoted to “calling-over”: sitting with a partner, taking turns reciting runs, in an effort to replicate the conditions of oral examinations at the LTPH office. Anytime you step into Knowledge Point you will find students, faces pinched in concentration, calling-over runs in the specialized jargon mandated by Knowledge examiners. A skilled caller — a “woosher,” in Knowledge slang — can sound like a slam poet or a rapper, whipping off street names and turnings in a pleasing syncopated rhythm as he races through London streets in his mind’s eye: Leave on the right Lillie Road, left Eardley Crescent, left Warwick Road, forward Holland Road, comply Holland Circus, leave by Uxbridge Road, forward and right Shepherd’s Bush Green. More often, what you will hear at Knowledge Point is the sound of strain: groans, hems and haws, cursing.
Matt McCabe had been coming to Knowledge Point since he started on the test. A stickler for routine, he arrived each morning at 8:45. When the doors opened at 9, he would sit down across a table from his call-over partner, Steven Vine. I met McCabe and Vine at Knowledge Point one morning and watched them call-over. They spent hours switching off, settling into a patter of run-calling punctuated by mumbled expletives and other exclamations: “good pull” (when you correctly identify a tricky point), “bad drop” (when you forget a point or road that you should know), “nice line” (when your call sketches a nice straight path across the map).
To call-over effectively is to find a golden mean between geography and geometry. The aim is not just to navigate cleanly, naming the right roads, but to make the shortest and most elegant line between points. While McCabe called-over a run, Vine followed along, tracing his partner’s route with a marker on the laminated map. When McCabe finished, he and Vine stretched a ball-bearing chain over the map to assess the straightness of his call. This practice is known as “cottoning the run,” a phrase that dates to the days when Knowledge boys would use lengths of cotton twine to measure their runs. “They have a saying, ‘Don’t let the cotton strangle you,’ ” McCabe said. “It’s a reminder: Don’t get too tied up in having the perfect line. You’re always trying to calculate: ‘Which one would look the prettiest on the map?’ But sometimes you just gotta let it flow.”
The London landscape throws up constant impediments to the ideal of traveling in a straight line: parks, railway yards, one-way streets. The Thames presents another challenge. Because the area below the river is referred to as South London, most people assume that the dozen central London bridges spanning the water stretch north-to-south. In fact, the Thames’s flow is meandering; in places, the river crossings run along the opposite axis. (A Knowledge boy mnemonic instructs: “East to West, Lambeth or Westminster Bridge is best.”) At Knowledge Point, McCabe leaned over the map and pointed to the King’s Road in Chelsea. “If you were going from here, say, all the way out to Canary Wharf, you might cross the river twice to make it the shortest line. So you might run it across Westminster Bridge and bring yourself back across Tower Bridge. That will be a straight line, because you’re understanding the bends in the river.”
At his late stage of the test process, McCabe found himself facing a novel problem: too much Knowledge. “London now feels very small. At the beginning, you would be standing in Piccadilly and someone says to you, ‘Take me to Kilburn,’ and you would say: ‘Oh my God, that feels miles away.’ Now, I can take you endless amounts of ways. And that’s the dilemma you’ve got now: you see too many options.”
Seeing, for a Knowledge candidate, is everything — at its heart, the Knowledge is an elaborate exercise in visualization. When McCabe called-over, he closed his eyes and toggled between views: picturing the city at street level, the roads rolling out in front of him as if in a movie, then pulling the camera back to take in the bird’s eye perspective, scanning the London map. Knowledge boys speak of a Eureka moment when, after months or years of doggedly assembling the London puzzle, the fuzziness recedes and the city snaps into focus, the great morass of streets suddenly appearing as an intelligible whole. McCabe was startled not just by that macroview, but by the minute details he was able to retain. “I can pull a tiny little art studio just from the color of the door, and where it’s got a lamppost outside. Your brain just remembers silly things, you know?”

The posterior hippocampus, known to be important for memory, is bigger in London taxi drivers than in most people and, for successful Knowledge candidates, enlarges as the test progresses.

The brains of London taxi drivers have attracted scholarly attention. Eleanor Maguire, a neuroscientist at University College London, has spent 15 years studying cabbies and Knowledge boys. She has discovered that the posterior hippocampus, the area of the brain known to be important for memory, is bigger in London taxi drivers than in most people, and that a successful Knowledge candidate’s posterior hippocampus enlarges as he progresses through the test. Maguire’s work demonstrates that the brain is capable of structural change even in adulthood. The studies also provide a scientific explanation for the experiences of Knowledge students, the majority of whom have never pursued higher education and profess shock at the amount of information they are able to assimilate and retain.

Film by Anthony Cotsifas.As Knowledge candidates progress through the test, the posterior hippocampus, the area of the brain known to be important for memory, grows and grows.
Historically, taxi driving has been a white working-class industry, dominated by East Londoners: first, the Irish, and later, cockneys and Jews. For a century at least, the London black taxi has been a vehicle of upward mobility, steering a path into the middle class. Today’s Knowledge candidates include a new generation of London strivers. At Knowledge Point, there are nearly as many black and brown faces bent over maps as white ones, and in the clamor of voices calling runs you hear a variety of accents — South Asian, West African, Caribbean — mingling with the broad vowels and glottal stops of Estuary English.
The students are united by shared suffering, and by a common adversary. For a Knowledge boy, the LTPH examiners have a kind of mythic status, inspiring a mixture of fear, resentment and awe. Appearances are highly ritualized. Candidates heed longstanding Knowledge traditions, wearing suits and ties to appearances and addressing the examiners formally. McCabe said: “It’s: ‘Yes, sir, three bags full, sir.’ You can sit in there and before you’ve even done anything, you’ve said ‘sir’ 15 times.”
Examiners insist that the formality is important, designed to inculcate a professional code and to prepare future cabbies for the ornery London public. But there is also humor, of a sort, in the testing room. For generations, Knowledge examiners have seized on the poetry of London nomenclature to craft cheeky runs: Snowman House to the ICE Train, Hamlet Gardens to the Globe Theatre, the Eye (the giant Ferris wheel on the South Bank of the Thames) to the Nose (a tiny sculpture, reputedly modeled on Lord Nelson’s nose, embedded in Admiralty Arch). One examiner, Tony Swire, likes to quiz candidates about their lives and use that information to concoct runs, off the top of his head, that flaunt his own vast London Knowledge. When Swire learned that Matt McCabe’s wife was a hairdresser and that his children were named Archie and Lulu, he gave McCabe a run from the Mayfair salon of celebrity hairstylist John Frieda, the ex-husband of Scottish pop singer Lulu, to Archie Street, a tiny dead-end road in Bermondsey.
At Knowledge Point, McCabe explained the quirks of various examiners. There was Mr. Gunning, who favors runs with difficult strictures: He likes to impose road closures, or to ask candidates to do runs while steering clear of streets with traffic lights. Ms. Gerald, one of two women examiners, specializes in runs with lots of novel points. “There’s another examiner, Mr. Hall,” McCabe said. “He’s a tricky one. They have a nickname for him. Everyone calls him the Smiling Assassin.”
David Hall is, in fact, quick with a smile. He’s 53 years old andbald-headed. He wears rimless glasses and dark suits and ties. I met him one afternoon at the LTPH office. He was sitting at the desk where he conducts examinations, with a large London map and various notes spread out in front of him. “It isn’t so bad in here, is it?” he said. He nodded slightly toward the area down the hall where Knowledge candidates wait to be called in for appearances. “You can’t believe everything you hear.”
Hall knows what it’s like to sit on the other side of the examiner’s desk. Like all examiners, he is a cabby, a Knowledge graduate with many years of taxi-driving on his CV. He left school at age 16, and got a job in the confectionery department at Harrods before becoming an electronics engineer. At age 27, he decided to try for a career as a cabby. Hall had a keen sense of direction and had always loved maps. He passed the Knowledge in less than two years.

At its heart, the Knowledge is an elaborate exercise in visualization: picturing the city at street level, the roads rolling out in front of him as if in a movie, then pulling the camera back to take in the bird’s eye view.

Hall became an examiner in 2008, and soon developed the reputation that earned him the Smiling Assassin moniker: He was a kind man, with a warm, welcoming manner, who asked very difficult runs. It is common knowledge among test-takers that Hall supports Crystal Palace, the football team based in South East London, and that he lives somewhere nearby. He is known, and feared, for giving vexing South London runs. Matt McCabe had Hall in two appearances, when he was on his 28s. McCabe said: “He’s fair, but very hard. He’ll take you from Kensington or Chelsea and he’ll get you to run it down to Peckham or to Dulwich. He’ll put you in the dilemma: Do I take Vauxhall Bridge or Battersea Bridge? He’s very technical. And he’s very into South London.”
Hall is also known for doing his homework. Examiners have to burnish their own Knowledge to keep a step ahead of examinees, reviewing road closures and traffic patterns, and, in their spare time, hitting the streets to pick up new points. Hall is a dedicated pointer. When I told a Knowledge boy that I was planning to interview Mr. Hall, he said: “I heard he went out pointing on Christmas Day.”
One afternoon, I met Hall outside Palestra House, the office tower in Southwark that houses LTPH. He was carrying a digital voice recorder and a clipboard with notes and maps, which he’d drawn himself. We walked north, crossing the Millennium Bridge, which links the South Bank of the Thames with the City of London, and then turned east, following the thrumming traffic along Queen Victoria Street. At a corner, Hall started scribbling notes. “You have to work out: How do the roads go? Is Queen Victoria Street curving there? Is Friday Street going north? At the end of Friday Street — yep, you’ve got a forced left with a blue arrow. A Knowledge candidate needs to take a mental picture of the road or the arrow there.” Hall drew an arrow on his map, indicating the forced left.
Just west of the intersection, on the north side of Queen Victoria Street, stood an elegant old church, with a spire that jutted above the surrounding buildings. Hall said: “That’s St. Nicholas Cole Abbey. It’s a Wren church. In fact, the church predated Wren by several centuries, but it was destroyed in the Great Fire, and Wren rebuilt it. That’s a point I’ll ask occasionally— I have done before. I’m very fond of City of London churches.”
It is said that the Knowledge is as much about learning history as learning your way around. After completing the Knowledge, Hall undertook a years-long course of study to earn the “blue badge” of an official London tour guide. While Hall strolled around the City pointing — logging road works and making notes about new restaurants and bars — he led me on an impromptu walking tour: more Wren churches, medieval livery companies and guild halls marked with elaborate coats of arms, the Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers, the Innholders Hall, a carved likeness of Winston Churchill’s face in the center of a clock above the doorway of an office building. Toward evening, we made our way back along Queen Victoria Street, passing a massive three-acre building site, the future home of Bloomberg L.P.’s European headquarters. The construction project had revealed further remains of the Temple of Mithras, a Roman ruin first discovered in 1954. The temple once stood on the banks of the Walbrook, a now-buried river that brought fresh water to Roman Londinium. Hall said: “In the religion practiced here, they used to have seven ordeals. If you were a Roman soldier, one of the ordeals was to put you over a fire pit. If you could withstand that particular ordeal, you went to the next stage in that religion.”
Hall said: “The thing about London is, it’s forever changing. The old city is preserved, of course, but there’s always a new city coming forth. There really is no end to the Knowledge. It’s infinite.”
T
he test-takers of a century ago who tottered their way to the Knowledge on bicycles earned a heady reward: not just a green badge, but something close to a guaranteed living. Today’s Knowledge candidates are banking on that pattern holding, but history seems to be veering in a different direction. These days, a person can walk into the LTPH office and, with relatively minimal effort, acquire a license to drive one of London’s nearly 60,000 minicabs, a fleet that vastly outnumbers the approximately 25,000 black taxis. Minicab drivers do not have to demonstrate familiarity with London; an applicant is merely required to pass a background check and take a “topographical test.” Minicabs can also offer cheaper fares than taxis, whose metered pricing schemes are strictly regulated.
For years, the black taxi industry has decried minicabs as an inferior service that poaches business rightfully belonging to Knowledge graduates. But many consumer advocates regard minicabs as a welcome corrective — a reasonably priced alternative to black taxis, whose hefty fares are beyond the reach of most Londoners. (A 2013 survey by the travel website TripAdvisor deemed London’s taxis the world’s most expensive, with an average cost per trip of £27, about $43.)
In theory, there are rules in place that offer advantages to traditional London cabbies: Theirs are the only rides that can legally be hailed on the street. But times are changing, and curbside hailing may soon be as quaint a relic of old London as the clubman striding through Mayfair in his bowler hat and boutonniere. Recently, the London taxi trade has been roiled by the rise of Uber, the smartphone app-based ride-sharing company. On June 11, thousands of drivers staged a one-hour-long “strike,” gridlocking streets to protest what they view as Uber’s illegal evasion of London’s metering laws. The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, a black-cab advocacy group, has brought series of lawsuits against Uber drivers. But at the demonstration, the cabbies’ anger was directed less at Uber, per se, than at Transport for London and Boris Johnson, London’s mayor, whom taxi drivers regard as a zealous deregulator, friendly to big business at their expense. (At the rally, cabbies held placards that read: “Uber: Under Boris Exempt from Regulation.”)
In his public statements on the matter, the mayor has walked a fine line. “London’s black-cab trade is crucial to the fabric of the city,” Johnson said. “There must, however, be a place for new technology to work in harmony with the black cab, and we shouldn’t unnecessarily restrict new ideas that are of genuine benefit to Londoners.” Others are less hedging. In July, Forbes ran an editorial by staff writer John Tamny, extolling Uber as a “disrupter” of the taxi business and casting London’s cabbies as passé: “Just as automation, free trade and general economic progress have allowed us to shed previously important skills such as sewing, farming, and yes, addition/subtraction, so does it allow us — indeed, it requires us — to shed once-relevant knowledge. . . . As for London, the GPS has, much to the chagrin of some cabdrivers with telegraphic memory, rendered their knowledge of one of the world’s great cities largely irrelevant.”
Taxi drivers counter such claims by pointing out that black cabs have triumphed in staged races against cars using GPS, or as the British call it, Sat-Nav. Cabbies contend that in dense and dynamic urban terrain like London’s, the brain of a cabby is a superior navigation tool — that Sat-Nav doesn’t know about the construction that has sprung up on Regent Street, and that a driver who is hailed in heavily-trafficked Piccadilly Circus doesn’t have time to enter an address and wait for his dashboard-mounted robot to tell him where to steer his car.

To support the Knowledge is to make the unfashionable argument that there’s something dystopian about the outsourcing of humanity’s hard-won erudition to gizmos.

Such arguments may hold for a while. But given the pace of technological refinement, how long will it be before the development of a Sat-Nav algorithm that works better than the most ingenious cabby, before a voice-activated GPS, or a driverless car, can zip a passenger from Piccadilly to Putney more efficiently than any Knowledge graduate? Ultimately, the case to make for the Knowledge may not be practical-economic (the Knowledge works better than Sat-Nav), or moral-political (the little man must be protected against rapacious global capitalism), but philosophical, spiritual, sentimental: The Knowledge should be maintained because it is good for London’s soul, and for the souls of Londoners. The Knowledge stands for, well, knowledge — for the Enlightenment ideal of encyclopedic learning, for the humanist notion that diligent intellectual endeavor is ennobling, an end in itself. To support the Knowledge is to make the unfashionable argument that expertise cannot be reduced to data, that there’s something dystopian, or at least depressing, about the outsourcing of humanity’s hard-won erudition to gizmos, even to portable handheld gizmos that themselves are miracles of human imagination and ingenuity. London’s taxi driver test enshrines knowledge as — to use the au courant term — an artisanal commodity, a thing that’s local and homespun, thriving ideally in the individual hippocampus, not the digital hivemind.
You could also call the Knowledge the greatest tribute a city has ever paid to itself, a love letter more ardent than “I ❤ N.Y.” or anything else a Chamber of Commerce might cook up. The Knowledge says that London is Holy Writ, a great mystery to be pored over, and that a corps of municipal Talmudists must be delegated to that task. To the extent that the mystifying clichés hold — that taxi drivers are London’s singers of songlines and fonts of folk wisdom, carrying not just the secrets of London navigation but the deep history of the city and its streets — the disappearance of the Knowledge would be an assault on civic memory, a blow, if you will, to historic preservation. Smartphone apps and Google Maps may ensure that Londoners will never again be lost in their own city, but if the Knowledge disappears, will something of London itself be lost — will some essence of the place vanish along with all those guys on mopeds, learning the town’s roads and plumbing its depths?
Like most cabbies and Knowledge boys, Matt McCabe worries about the future of the taxi business. But in January 2013, he had more pressing concerns. A few days after his visit to Fish Island, McCabe went on an appearance and scored a B, leaving him with 10 points, just two shy of his goal. Barring a calamity, a brain-freeze, it seemed a foregone conclusion that his next appearance would be his last.
Three weeks later, on a Friday, McCabe rose, as usual, early, with his children, and went through a routine he’d established over many months. He made sure he was cleanly shaven, that his shoes were polished, his suit pristine. He took the train into London, disembarked at London Bridge station, and walked to the LTPH office at a measured pace, trying to keep his heart-rate steady. He arrived with time to spare and took his seat in the waiting area with a dozen or so other Knowledge candidates.
At around 2 p.m., McCabe’s name was called, and he was ushered into the office of a man he’d never met before. David O’Connor is a veteran examiner with a reputation as a hard marker. McCabe knew that O’Connor liked to test whether candidates had been getting around on the bike, and liked to give runs that worked the center of the map.
McCabe sat down and breezed through his first three runs. He was nervous, but his calls, he thought, were solid. Surely it was a done deed now? For the session’s final run, O’Connor asked McCabe to take him from the Sun and Doves to Emirates Stadium. McCabe closed his eyes. He could see the Sun and Doves: It was a pub on the corner of Coldharbour Lane and Caldecot Road, down in Camberwell. Of course he knew Emirates Stadium, the home of Arsenal, the Premier League football team. McCabe said: “Sun and Doves, Coldharbour Lane. Emirates Stadium, it’s Drayton Park. That’s the North Bank entrance.” O’Connor nodded: the Knowledge boy had identified the points correctly. McCabe closed his eyes again, to make sure he saw the line clearly. Then he called the run:
Leave on the right, Coldharbour Lane
Left into Denmark Hill
Forward Camberwell Road
Forward Walworth Road
Comply Elephant and Castle
Leave by Newington Causeway
Forward Borough High Street
Forward over London Bridge
Forward into King William Street
Forward Lombard Street
Forward Bank Junction
Forward Prince’s Street
Forward Moorgate
Forward Finsbury Pavement
Forward Finsbury Square
Forward City Road
Comply Old Street roundabout
Leave by City Road continued
Right Provost Street
Right Vestry Street
Left into East Road
Forward New North Road
Forward Canonbury Road
Comply Highbury Corner
Leave by Holloway Road
Right Drayton Park
Set down on the left
It was a nearly seven-mile-long journey, due north, from Camberwell to Holloway, in Islington, north-central London. When McCabe finished the call, he and O’Connor sat in silence for what seemed to McCabe an eternity. Finally, O’Connor stood up and extended his hand. He said: “Well done, Matt. Welcome to the club. I’m pleased to say that you’re now one of London’s finest.” It was the first time in the more than three years McCabe had been coming to LTPH that an examiner had called him by his first name.
“It was an emotional moment,” McCabe said. “It was hard to hold back the tears. Three years of complete financial stress, family stress — studying for 13 hours a day, seven days a week. Suddenly, the whole thing was very casual. It was quite, you know, ‘Sit back, relax, loosen your tie.’ And then Mr. O’Connor was telling me what to expect doing the job. He was giving me his inside knowledge after being a London cabby for, like, 20-odd years.” McCabe went home to his family. He and his wife, Katie, ordered take-out from a Thai restaurant, put on loud music, and danced around the house with their children. When the kids went to bed, the McCabes drank a few beers and dismantled the Knowledge library: stored the flashcards and pages of notes, took the maps off the wall. Katie, McCabe said, “cried for about two days solid.”
McCabe has been driving a taxi for just over a year and a half. He is still new at the job, relatively speaking; in London cabby lingo, he’s a “Butter Boy” — but a boy, a recent Knowledge graduate. He has the leanings of a traditionalist, though. Many cabbies today are opting for new minivan-style Mercedes taxis, or cabs decorated with “full wrap-liveries,” advertisements in eye-popping hues. McCabe owns a TX4 Elegance, a car with the classic London black cab look. “I like the iconic shape,” he said. “To me, if you’re gonna be a London cabby, that’s what you should be driving.”

When he’s in his cab, McCabe keeps his eyes peeled for another London curiosity: the LTPH Knowledge examiners, his erstwhile tormentors, now colleagues.

In June, McCabe took part in the demonstration against Uber. He said, “We’re trying to be the best in the world, and trying to stay competitive as well. And, you know, the way Uber seems to operate in London — when it’s quiet, they do the work for next to nothing, when it’s busy, the rates are three times dearer than a London cab.” For now, McCabe is making a good living. “The rewards are there. You have to do the hours. I mean, a normal day for me is a 12-hour day.”
He said: “What I’ve done is a trade. A minicab driver, an Uber driver — they won’t do the undertaking I done. They won’t put in the three years.”
“I had a gentleman in the cab recently,” McCabe said. “He told me that a couple of nights earlier he’d been eating in a restaurant in Chelsea, and the Uber car turned up. He said, ‘We want to go to Wapping.’ And the driver said, ‘Where’s Wapping? Is it in London?’ And it’s, like, a massive borough. He’s never heard of it! So, I picked this guy up. He said, ‘Wapping.’ I went, ‘Yes, sir.’ And he said, ‘Kennet Street.’ I went, ‘Yes, sir.’ He got in the back, and we were off. And he told me, ‘That’s why I’m reverting back to London cabs.’ ”
McCabe said, “The moment a person tells me at the window where they want to go, we’re going. There’s no mucking about. I want to get you from A to B as quickly as possible. Because as nice as the person may be, I want to get them in and out. So I can get the next person in the back of the cab, and I’m earning more money.”
McCabe is still doing the Knowledge, after a fashion. He’s embarked on the three-year course to become a licensed London historian — an official tour guide, like David Hall. “I’m fascinated with the quirky little bits of London history,” McCabe said. “The famous lamps at the Savoy. The secret tunnels that link up to St. James’s Palace.”
When he’s in his cab, McCabe keeps his eyes peeled for another London curiosity: the Knowledge examiners, his erstwhile tormentors, now colleagues, who may be out driving their own taxis, or gathering new points. Each workday, McCabe makes his way into the city’s center via South London, guiding his taxi through the streets that have flummoxed many a Knowledge boy attempting to call one of Mr. Hall’s runs. McCabe hasn’t spotted Hall yet, but he hopes he will sometime. It would be nice, he says, to have a beer with the Smiling Assassin.
Back in the winter of 2013, shortly before McCabe’s final appearance, I asked him how he was handling the pressure. He said: “If you overcome the nerves, your training will take over. When I get into that room, I try to think: ‘This guy is an examiner, but when he’s not sitting here, he’s behind the wheel, driving a cab.’ He could pick me up tomorrow, you know, or pick my wife up. That calms me down. I think to myself, ‘This guy is just a cab driver, same as what I want to be. He’s just a London cab driver. He doesn’t know everything.’ ”

Tags: GPCLondon Black Taxi Cab Driver
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UK: The working women’s charter: forty years on, women are still struggling

Labourstart.org News - Mon, 11/10/2014 - 16:00
LabourStart headline - Source: The Guardian
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