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Noam Chomsky at 90: On Orwell, Taxi Drivers, and Rejecting Indoctrination

Hi all,

Peter Russell drew my attention to this piece in the Nation:

Noam Chomsky at 90: On Orwell, Taxi Drivers, and Rejecting Indoctrination

As agile as ever, he pulls no punches, decrying the flaws of capitalism and abuses of governing power, sparing few politicians and no parties.

Noam Chomsky was aptly described in a New York Times book review published almost four decades ago as “arguably the most important intellectual alive today.” He was 50 then. Now he is 90, and on the occasion of his December 7 birthday, the German international broadcasting service Deutsche Welle observed, again aptly, that Chomsky is “arguably the foremost political dissident of the last half a century.”

Chomsky reminds us that intellect and dissent go together, and that the vital challenge of our times is to maintain “an independent mind.” That’s not easy in an age of manufactured consent, but it is possible, as Chomsky so well reminds us—by continuing to speak, as consistently and as agilely as ever, about the lies of our times.

When I visited him the other day, he was as gracious, witty, and blunt as ever. He pulled no punches, decrying the flaws of capitalism and politics, sparing few politicians and no parties. The academic and activist, whose outspoken opposition to American imperialism earned him a place on former President Richard Nixon’s “enemies list,” answered a recent question (from Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman) about the approach of the Republican Party of Donald Trump and Paul Ryan to climate change with a question: “Has there ever been an organization in human history that is dedicated, with such commitment, to the destruction of organized human life on Earth?” His answer: “Not that I’m aware of.”

Much will be said about Chomsky’s contributions to our intellectual and political life in the days and weeks to come. And new contributions will be added by the man whose statements continue to stir debates and consciences. I want to offer just a brief note today, from an extended conversation we had several years ago about the challenges facing independent thinkers in perilous times.

Chomsky recalled a preface that George Orwell wrote for Animal Farm, which was not included in the original editions of the book.

“It was discovered about 30 years later in his unpublished papers. Today, if you get a new edition of Animal Farm, you might find it there,” he recalled. “The introduction is kind of interesting—he basically says what you all know: that the book is a critical, satiric analysis of the totalitarian enemy. But then he addresses himself to the people of free England; he says: You shouldn’t feel too self-righteous. He said in England, a free country—I’m virtually quoting—unpopular ideas can be suppressed without the use of force. And he goes on to give some examples, and, really, just a couple of common-sense explanations, which are to the point. One reason, he says, is: The press is owned by wealthy men who have every reason not to want certain ideas to be expressed. And the other, he says, essentially, is: It’s a ‘good’ education.”

Chomsky explained: “If you have a ‘good’ education, you’ve gone to the best schools, you have internalized the understanding that there’s certain things it just wouldn’t do to say—and I think we can add to that, it wouldn’t do to think. And that’s a powerful mechanism. So, there are things you just don’t think, and you don’t say. That’s the result of effective education, effective indoctrination. If people—many people—don’t succumb to it, what happens to them? Well, I’ll tell you a story: I was in Sweden a couple years ago, and I noticed that taxi drivers were being very friendly, much more than I expected. And finally I asked one of them, ‘Why’s everyone being so nice?’ He pulled out a T-shirt he said every taxi driver has, and the T-shirt had a picture of me and a quote in Swedish of something I’d said once when I was asked, ‘What happens to people of independent mind?’ And I said, ‘They become taxi drivers.’”

Or Noam Chomsky.

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They Bonded as Cabbies …

Tony Equale brought this article to my attention. According to the article, the two drivers profiled here drove at a garage on 55th Street, which must have been 55th Street Garage. During the 70s, there was a strong activist group at 55th Street, which included a couple of Rank & File members. 55th Street drivers went out on a wildcat strike in 1975, which you can read about in Hot Seat 35. Thanks to Tony for passing this on.

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The latest from the NY Taxi Workers Alliance

Taxi workers Unite!

NYTWA has a plan to unite drivers in every sector – yellow, green, black car, livery and app dispatched – and STOP our crisis. Join us on July 10th to call for City Council to act on our demands!

** Require the taxi meter the minimum fare across the industry and then Raise the rates 

** Cap the Number of For Hire Vehicles (FHVs)

** Require App drivers receive minimum 80% of the fare 

** Cap FHV driver vehicle and commission expenses 

** Have a program to stop owner-driver bankruptcies and foreclosures 

** Fees on the App companies not App drivers. No one App restriction.

**Cap TLC fines and No suspension/revocation + fine 

** Stop Congestion Pricing

** Health Fund with retirement for all drivers 

Read our complete policy platform on

As we get ready to take over Broadway on July 10th, here is the latest update: NYC’s Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) asked economists to study how much App drivers are making and to support a TLC proposal where App companies could charge anything they want to the passenger and then use a rate set by TLC on mileage and time on every trip to decide payment on the trip for the driver. 

So remember how just when Uber started to charge passengers more on trips, they came up with Upfront Pricing, where they stopped letting drivers get a percentage of that money (revenue)? Drivers across the country, including NYTWA members, sued to stop it because we saw the receipts that showed Uber took way more from the passenger compared to what they paid the driver. Uber made more. Drivers made less. 

Well, now, the TLC wants to turn this Uber business practice into a regulation. The TLC proposal would let the companies charge passengers whatever they want and lets Uber cut drivers out of that revenue. In exchange, Uber, Lyft etc. would have to use rates set by the TLC to add up how much the driver gets paid on every trip. The TLC believes these rates will leave drivers making NYC’s minimum wage after taxes and expenses, as long as the driver has no more than $20,000 in yearly expenses. 

The TLC’s pay proposal locks app drivers in at minimum wage at a time when Uber & company are finally turning a profit – and lets Uber continue the race to the bottom that has left drivers in financial crisis.

We need to fix this crisis for drivers in EVERY sector! Keep pushing for City Hall to pass regulations – one regulated minimum rate of fare for all sectors, cap FHVs, cap FHV car expenses, and guarantee FHV drivers 80 percent of whichever is higher – the regulated rate of fare or the upfront pricing fee charged to passengers.

Let’s keep moving forward, with our eyes sharp on the prize – our demands!

We want a life of dignity and reward for our hard labor. 

United, We Will Win! Together, We Can Fix Our Crisis. 


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Darol Chamberlain

Darol - cover

As many of you know, Darol Chamberlain died suddenly – from an aortic aneurysm – on August 5th. Darol was a long-time member of the Taxi Rank & File Coalition. He drove at Ann Service and was a member of the shop committee there. Darol was steady and thoughtful, never calling attention to himself, always focused on doing what had to be done. When he left taxi in the mid 70s, he went to NYC Technical College to study machine tool technology.

In the late 1970s, he moved up to Ithaca with his soon to be wife Jane Mt. Pleasant. He got a job at a lab at Cornell. Whenever I saw him, I would ask him about his job but, honestly, I could never understand what he did there. I think that was partially because it was over my head but also because he was so modest and unassuming and always understated his role. A group of us from the Rank & File went up to the service for him. There were a couple of hundred people there, and many spoke movingly of the ways that Darol had touched them. While I got a little bit better sense of what he did there (he was the head of the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) electronics team and a member of the Clark Hall detector group at the Cornell Physics department), the truth is, I still don’t really understand it. But in their comments, the Darol I knew came shining through. He was a friend and comrade, someone who helped many of us understand the natural world, someone who could always be relied on. It’s hard to believe he’s gone.

I’ve reproduced here some of the documents from the service.

Darol - short biowhat a physicist would say at a funeral


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Taxi Workers Alliance on Uber

Hi all,

I thought this was worth sharing! Hope to see you in the streets!



Monday, January 30, 2017 

Statement from New York Taxi Workers Alliance on #DeleteUber: 

Seeing thousands of you stand up in defense of our strike and against Uber’s greed has been so deeply moving. Striking is the hardest decision workers have to make, even when you win, because of the isolation that follows. Your solidarity brings us light in these dark times, in so many ways.  

Uber, more than any other share-the-scraps company, has used liberal rhetoric to woo progressives all the while retaining three times more lobbyists than Wal-Mart to push for policies that keep workers poor. It’s not shocking that Uber would put greed above social principles. It does that to drivers every day. 

Now is the time for all those who value justice and equality to join together in holding Uber accountable, not only for its complicity with Trump’s hateful policies but also for impoverishing workers.  

Uber’s greed and disregard for social values was evident before the company’s CEO Travis Kalanick became an advisor to Donald Trump. And Uber drivers along with other professional drivers bear the brunt of that greed.  

Make no mistake, the corporations leading the gig economy and the sharing economy will never be a part of the resistance. Backed by billions of dollars in Wall Street funding, these companies, including Uber and Lyft, are upending labor standards for which workers have spent centuries fighting. Sharing is the new euphemism for worker exploitation, meaning that workers share the scraps after corporations loot profits. Even as these corporations make million-dollar pledges today, they still refuse to abide by Minimum Wage laws.

We are a workforce that is predominantly Muslim and Sikh, a workforce that is predominantly black and brown, and a workforce that is increasingly impoverished. Uber and other so-called sharing economy actors are predicated on turning full-time jobs into part-time gigs, keeping workers impoverished and fragmented, making it harder to take action – at a loss to the workers and to civil society as we know it.  That’s why we are so incredibly proud of our members, including Uber drivers, who stood up to the injustice of the Muslim ban on Saturday.  

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance represents all professional drivers in New York City, uniting those who drive Yellow Cabs, Green Cars, and Black Cars, including app-dispatched drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft. 

Let’s hold Uber and every single corporation accountable for its greed-at-all-cost complicity in this inhumane policy and every such policy that follows.  And let’s equally hold them accountable for the policies of impoverishment.



Founded in 1998, NYTWA is the 19,000-member strong union of NYC taxicab drivers, representing yellow cab drivers, green car, and black car drivers, including drivers for Uber and Lyft.  We fight for justice, rights, respect and dignity for the over 50,000 licensed men and women who often labor 12 hour shifts with little pay and few protections in the city’s mobile sweatshop.  Our members come from every community, garage, and neighborhood. To find out more visit or like us on

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Michael Ratner

Michael Ratner

Many of you must have noticed the passing on May 11th of Michael Ratner, for many years the President of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Michael was a tireless and passionate fighter for justice and social change. The New York Times ran a long obituary that can be found here. The Center ran their own tribute to him on their website.

None of the pieces I’ve read have mentioned a little known part of Michael’s early career: he was one of the lawyers who worked on the Taxi Rank & File Coalition’s historic lawsuit challenging the union leadership’s effort to impose the hated 1971 contract without a vote by the membership – as required by the union constitution. We filed our suit in April 1973, fully two years after the taxi bosses and the union imposed the contract – over the overwhelming opposition of taxi workers. You can read all about it in the Hot Seat, starting with #22.

We finally won a victory of sorts in November of that year when the unratified contract expired and the union and fleetowners tried to submit the next one to binding arbitration. Judge Marvin Frankel issued a temporary restraining order blocking that move. Finally, in June 1974, the union agreed to settle the case and hold a vote on what was now a new contract. The vote finally took place in September ’74. By then, the anger and fury over the contract was a distant memory and its most significant “innovations”,  a lower share of the fare for new drivers and a dime off the top for benefits, had acquired the air of permanency. Barely five percent of the union membership voted and the contract passed by about two to one. According to the Hot Seat (I have to rely on that account since I can’t remember the details myself), almost half the people who voted for the contract were pensioners – the union leadership’s main base of support.

The Rank & File’s lead attorney was Richard Levy, but Michael played an important role in thinking through the case and developing strategy. I was on the committee that met with the lawyers, and I remember Michael as thoughtful, humble, and smart. He and Richard (who worked very hard on the case) did great work and were forever gracious to us even though the Rank & File voted not to ask the court to force the union to pay our legal fees.

Michael will be missed!


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Paris taxi protest brings rush hour traffic to standstill


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