Posted on October 18, 2007

Cabbies’ Opposition to Jobs Drive

BBC News, October 10, 2007

Cab drivers have protested against plans to give help to women and ethnic minorities entering the profession.

They said moves to offer language, numeracy and childcare support for those taking the Knowledge exam was preferential treatment.

But supporters of the scheme, supported by the London Development Agency (LDA), said greater diversity was in the long-term interests of the profession.

Members of the London Cab Drivers’ Club (LCDC) demonstrated outside the LDA.

The Knowledge, introduced in 1865, involves remembering every street within six miles of Charing Cross and takes up to three years to attain.

‘Backward approach’

“Most people have had to do the Knowledge in their own way,” said Alan Fleming, from the LCDC.

“A lot of people have actually done it while looking after a family or paying their mortgage. I think it’s quite an unfair system that certain parties should be singled out for preferential treatment which is what this is all about.”

Mr Fleming also labelled the scheme “patronising” towards the groups it was actually trying to target.

Official figures show that only 5% of London’s black cab drivers are from ethnic minority communities, and 1.6% are women.

Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, accused the LCDC of demonstrating a “consistently backward and short-sighted approach” to improving the taxi trade.

“The project simply aims to support people from communities that are under-represented in the industry, as they undertake the arduous Knowledge process, so that over time London will have a taxi trade that looks more like its population,” he said.

“This will make London an even more attractive place to companies around the world whose business we wish to attract.”

He insisted there would be no compromise over the knowledge qualification process which would remain vigorous.

Yesterday I read that Ken Livingstone has created an ethnic assistance program for minority trainees for the London Black Cab taxi test, otherwise known as “The Knowledge.” And it has already received a storm of controversy.

“The Knowledge” is about the three year study program that tests a knowledge of all London streets, in addition to general management and service knowledge, as well as overall skills relating to the vehicle.

There is a mis-match between the the population average of black and ethnic minorities (BME) living in London, which is 30 percent on average, but in some boroughs even much higher, and the average of BME inside the cab trade.

The London Development Agency, LDA, which is an authority Livingstone is directly responsible for, has decided to offer ethnic minority people special help, such as a free motorbike, which is needed to drive around London to learn the streets, language skills and other assistance and courses. Some have nicknamed this program the “Ethnic Knowledge.”

There are several problems with the program however:

The Livingstone ethnic cabbies program only promotes Black and Brown skin coloured persons.

White minorities are in admissable.

This means that Jews (Mike Bell mentioned in the Evening Standard), “Hispanic”Latin Americans, people with an Arab background, Bosnians, Kosovo-Albanians, Roma and Sinthi, Catholic Irish, travellers, Turkish and Kurdish people, European (“white”) Muslims and other religious minorities are all excluded from the program. I am not sure if Black and Brown includes Chinese people. to say it again all these will not get promoted because they are not “Black” or “Brown”!

The concept of this definition is based on the political meaning of Black, dating out of the 1970s and possibly can be pinned down to Livingstone’s BME advisor and friend Lee Jasper, formerly a radical spokesperson for the Association of Black Lawyers, who in his prior function has often made arguments on that narrower definition of Black. It is a misreading of the real situation of minorities in Britain, based on a narrow look from within the interests of “Black concerns” only. It was also based on the fact that the Race Relations Act of 1974 initially only recognized African, African Caribbean and Indian / Asian people. It was later amended to include some other minorities and religions. It is also not shared by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) the controling body of the Race Relation Acts, and they bypassed the era of the 1970s officially just recently by changing from CRE (commission for Racial Equality) to EHRC. The shift symbolized a recognition that discrimination can happen in any direction and also to people with a variety of conditions, such as ME, MS, AIDS, and physical limitations.

The “ethnic knowledge” program also is contravening with the reality of poverty in the UK and London, of which white working class families are some of the most disaffected, only followed closely by African Caribbean families, and Bengali families.

Current BME cab drivers also argue that this promotion undermines their own achievements and will cause a bad rift. yesterday cab driver trainer Courtney Connell, in the industry since 14 years, was quoted in the Evening Standart as dismissing the program. He is “black” and wears dreadlocks.

There is however a problem about the current cabbies which gave so few cab drivers from BME groups in the profession. I believe the “ethnic knowledge” program currently started is totally inappropriate and must be challenged, extended or stopped. Direct Affirmative Action in Britain is illegal. the LDA claims that theirs is just a support program, and that means that all trainees will have to pass the same exam on equal conditions, and there is no acceleration of BME trainees.

The only way I would suggest to tackle lack of BME are:

1.) examine the culture within the training schools, and if there is lack of understanding or racist recruiting or support of BME students, as would otherwise be available in normal schools. Then to make changes and control these consistently.

2.) Run a heavy advertising campaign in BME high areas to recruit young people as cab drivers and convince them that this may be a good career. There may actually be cultural obstacles to this also, as some cultures would view becoming a cab drivers as something undesirable. It is the task of the “Black Cab” profession to show that being a skilled “Black Cab” drivers is a world apart from just being the driver in a local mini cab (untrained taxi driver) company, where there is certainly no lack of BME drivers.

Lastly I wonder if BME young people should be satisfied with support programs only in this working class profession. At the end of the day better and more reliable schools that teach subjects relevant to BME children, and inspiring to all children and cherish them in the same way private schools would do, would be an even fairer way of tackling the problem of under-achievement generally. But this is an age old concern, one that Gordon claims to continue to support.