‘These Little Bosses’ Irritate Workers--Taxi Drivers Revolt
While tens of thousands of people formed human barricades around the Russian Federation Parliament last month to resist the reactionary putsch against the president of their country, cabdrivers at Moscow Taxi Park No. 15 were organizing a little mutiny of their own.
It was bad enough when Boris K. Bachiyev, the drivers’ director, showed up at work on the first day of the attempted coup with a big smile and forbade a nearby news kiosk to sell any liberal papers. But then, as drivers huddled to discuss the attack on the infant Soviet democracy, the director jeered at them: “So I guess your democrats couldn’t play to the end.”
“We were furious,” recalled driver Viktor A. Rusikhin. “We gathered about 200 signatures on a letter and sent it to (Russian Federation President Boris N.) Yeltsin. We don’t want a boss like him. In our park, he is the symbol of the old power structure. This is his fiefdom.”
The unfinished drama at Taxi Park No. 15--Bachiyev still has his job but is reportedly traveling in Austria--has been played out all across the Soviet Union in these early days of democracy. Inspired by the courage of their countrymen at the barricades, little people have found the nerve to stand up to small-time dictators everywhere.
There were dictators aplenty. So deep did the Soviets’ hierarchical system reach that in every town, village, factory and office, there were a few anointed chiefs and many modern-day serfs.
“We were sick of always having to bow our heads and look at the ground while our bosses walked by holding their heads proudly in the air,” Rusikhin said. “Now, I’ve started to feel like another person. I have begun to believe that I can do something and that I have significance as a person and a citizen of Russia.”
Taxi Park No. 15’s rebellion would have been impossible in earlier days, the drivers say, because of the potential consequences of crossing a boss.
“We would have been too afraid to do anything like this before,” said Slava, 52, another driver who signed the letter but who declined to give his last name. “It’s not enough that the junta has been jailed. These little bosses have to answer for their actions, too.”
The taxi drivers’ letter demanding Bachiyev’s dismissal has been forwarded from Yeltsin’s office to that of Moscow’s reformist mayor, Gavriil Popov.
“We will give them about a month, and if we don’t get the response we want, we’ll start a new campaign to get him ousted,” Rusikhin said. “We’ll hold meetings and post fliers to rally support, and then well arrange a strike.”
Taxi Park No. 15 is a Soviet version of the New York City garage that American television viewers laughed at in the comedy “Taxi” but one drawn on a vastly different scale. The city-run operation serving Moscow’s northern neighborhoods, including its airport, employs 1,600 drivers and an additional staff of 400. It consists of an administration building, parking lot and mechanics’ workshops.
These days, its administration is taking a low profile.
“Anything is possible,” Mukhamed Baichariev, a deputy director, said casually. “But I haven’t heard of any putsch going on in our taxi park.”
But while Baichariev was being interviewed, he received an angry telephone call directing him to stop talking to the press and to escort a reporter from the taxi park. Baichariev’s face flushed bright red, and he promptly ended the interview. The call was apparently from another senior official of the taxi park but Baichariev would not identify him.
Bachiyev’s trip to Austria was just another sign to the drivers of the injustice of the old Soviet system. While a director of a taxi park could travel abroad, the drivers who filled his coffers could not afford any luxuries, they said.
“Our hard work pays for his creature comforts,” said Vasily V. Shishanov, 45, who has been working out of the taxi park since 1969. “All our premium goes to him, and he does not even buy spare parts for our cars.”
The drivers said that during the years of perestroika, they had won some new rights but that when Bachiyev arrived, he had stripped them of these gains.
A few years ago, for instance, the Soviet government passed a rule giving taxi drivers the right to buy their own taxis after driving them to the point where they would normally be out of commission.
“There is such a shortage of cars,” Shishanov said, “that it is impossible to buy a car in the Soviet Union any other way.”
But at Taxi Park No. 15, now only administrators can buy the used taxis, the drivers said.
In other ways, too, the drivers said, their director has been cheating them out of money that they should have been able to keep for themselves. They expressed bitterness that they cannot work and earn fares because the park’s mechanics do not have the parts to fix their cars. Yet the director has enough money to travel to Austria, they said, and to pay for new marble stairways being installed in the administration building.
Although the taxi drivers have started to demand their rights, there is still a cloud of fear over many of them.
“We are worried that there will be repressions,” Rusikhin said. “But we won’t give up.”