A strike of taxi drivers was held at the end of October in Voronezh, a city with a million-strong population located 600 km to the southeast of Moscow. The incident little noticed nationwide. But in the coming days, taxi drivers are going to go on week-long strike in several other cities in Russia. The most active members of special chats are calling for “coming down hard on them” and “burning cars”. It looks more like the protests of “yellow vests” than the simple discontent with the low fares for rides.
In fact, the taxi drivers’ strike scarcely surprises anyone. For example, taxi drivers in Volgograd went on strike three times at the end of last year, twice in November. However, such isolated events have been solved locally so far, without going beyond one city. At present, one may get an impression that taxi drivers are deliberately pushed to protest in the central squares of Moscow and other Russian cities in the form of unauthorized protest rallies. And it wouldn't be possible to hold a joint action without conflicts with the police. And that is what the taxi drivers seem to be prepared for. It looks like tensions in the taxi drivers' chats have been intentionally whipped up recently. The most aggressive participants are becoming more active, openly calling for tough protests and confrontation with the authorities. “Stop wasting time wantonly”, “we have to give them what for”, “we have to act seriously; until we shut down the city center, nobody will respect us”, “we must bash those who agree to work instead of us and burn their cars” -- and these are not the most aggressive appeals in the chats. Boycott 2019, the largest Telegram's protest group of taxi drivers, has subgroups in different cities, which facilitate the organization and coordination of any traffic. It doesn’t look like a spontaneous protest: according to some members of the chat, there shouldn’t be any strikes in Moscow before the first days of December, because “the forces are not for free.” In other words, the protest action of taxi drivers has been funded by someone, and it is unlikely some labour union. Such an ambitious protest is unlikely to be planned as an appeal to “raise the “minimum payment” or to “show the final destination.” Although the organizers of these groups try to show off their political indifference, economic demands to agents and taxicab fleet companies do not need such drastic measures. Also, if this is the purposes, there is no need to look for instructors to train drivers how to fight with the police and to set fire to strikebreakers' cars. It is worth recalling the well-organized protest of truck drivers against the introduction of the Platon electronic toll system. The colour revolution in Serbia began, for example, with the strike of garbage truck drivers. Russian taxi drivers are not the same glamorous young people who are shown on TV commercials and who carry passengers just out of pure love for their trade. The business itself is low-margin, but highly risky, so it often attracts members of ethnic communities or semi-criminal and marginal groups who don’t find other jobs. However, within the subculture, taxi drivers, as well as the truckers, can quickly get organized for short-term purposes: to confront somebody or to split the market. “Moonlighting cab drivers know how coming to a cabstand occupied by someone else ends. For the first time, the wheels are slashed, then the car will be smashed and the driver will be crippled. By the way, during the Serbian strike Gene Sharpe's methods of non-violent resistance, which had been at the heart of all “colored” coups d'état, were used. But in Russia the non-violent forms of protest have long been forgotten. And the preparation of taxi drivers for a mass presentation in Moscow, which is now being actively discussed by the members of Boycott 2019, illustrates it full well. Activists' stories of either real or imaginary murders of their rivals are accompanied by the calls for “catching and strangling” and detailed instructions for blackmailing those who will refuse to take part in the protest or suddenly decide to work at that time. While so far the protest actions of young Muscovites have been quite harmless, the massive rallies of taxi drivers in several Russian cities might lead to entirely different --disastrous -- consequences. For the initiators of social protest, taxi drivers as a rather passionate and traditionally well-coordinated group, are eminently suitable. All they had to do was create a cause for their discontent. Chances are that the dissatisfaction was stoked only as part of some corporate war for the market power. However, by solving private tasks and sorting out relations in pressure groups, someone pushes taxi drivers into the general atmosphere of riots in the country. It is becoming difficult to distinguish the business conflict from the real interests of taxi drivers and the desire to destabilize the situation in order to get political preferences in the forthcoming transfer of power. The taxi drivers' action in Moscow is planned for December and will follow up all previous local protests (environmental ones – garbage dumping protests, the most notorious of which was the fight over Shiyes in the Arkhangelsk region, housing-and-municipal protests -- against the renovation in Moscow and against the construction of a church and for keeping up a park in Yekaterinburg, electoral ones, and then in defense of arrested Golunov, Ustinov, Zhukov for the Moscow case, the protests of Alexei Navalny with school students as the main participants, etc.) But this action may become the first one aimed from the very start at a conscious and tough confrontation with the authorities. Taxi drivers are expected to clash with the police, because the organizers of any revolution need victims, preferably the ones who are killed in fights with the authorities. And if students don't want to die and offer sluggish resistance, the guys in the taxi drivers’ seats may prove to be stronger. Today, with the help of communication channels adjusted in advance and classical protest organization schemes, taxi drivers are picked and remolded into leaders. The ideology, including nationalist one, has been formulated for them. Aggressive groups are trained to confront the police and oriented at staging large-scale street protests, which will eventually split society into two irreconcilable sections: taxi drivers, on the one hand, and passengers on the other. According to some reports, taxi drivers are massively organizing the mobilization of specially trained militants -- young people with military and sports skills, who will become taxi drivers only for the time of the protest. The taxi drivers have been persistently trained for the all-Russia strike, which may become the beginning of the Russian Maidan movement. Judging from the rhetoric and moods in the chats, many of them are ready to take to the barricades.