A guest post by sociologist Diditi Mitra on Biju Mathew’s book, Taxi: Cabs and Capitalism in New York City.
In the book Taxi: Cabs and Capitalism in New York City, Biju Mathew (2005) seeks to contextualize the New York City taxi industry within the trajectories of global capitalism.
Mathew provides the reader with a history of the taxi industry, including the development of the industry as well as the changes in the source of labor for the industry. Additionally, Mathew discusses New York Taxi Workers Alliance’s (NYTWA), and its efforts to challenge industry level transformations and its accompanied exploitation of the worker, namely the taxi driver, that are inevitably a part of a capitalist progression, increasing concentration of power in the hands of the owners of the industry as well as the middle and upper class consumers in order to cheapen labor costs and increase profits.
While Mathew’s analysis provides useful insights into the taxi industry as well as the numerous ways in which the workers are subjugated, it could have benefited from a specified theoretical framework that connects all the different ideas expressed in the book. Mathew has a tendency to make generalizations (that working class South Asian immigrants are more aware of their racist beliefs than South Asian middle class immigrants) and glorify the worker.
Overall, the book is an important one for the following reasons: it uncovers the multiple ways in which the workers are exploited and more importantly, dehumanized; gives voice to the human beings who drive taxis in New York City; inspires those who would still like to believe in the revolution; and the book is an impassioned account of the lives of people who are made invisible with the label of a taxi driver.