The couriers' strike

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By RENATA DUTRA & RICARDO FESTI*

Delivery men gave face and body to a set of questions about the death policy translated into the neoliberal intensification associated with fascism

“Our struggle has the potential to unite the working class”
(Paulo Galo, Anti-Fascist Deliverers).

They have nothing to lose: for the hundreds of thousands of workers engaged as delivery people on food delivery platforms and other utilities, facing the pandemic to protest does not pose an additional challenge to what they are already facing to earn a living. Incidentally, the absence of a guaranteed salary, or even minimum wage levels, made these workers vulnerable, in the context of the pandemic, to increase.

Subjected to price fluctuations unilaterally established by the platform companies, couriers were faced with falling prices in the pandemic scenario, which forced them to extend the already tiring workdays in order to keep up with family expenses. and with the financial commitments arising from the acquisition of work tools (yes, to register with delivery platforms for precarious and unsafe work, many of these workers go into debt to purchase motorcycles and bicycles).

The scenario of unemployment and informality, which reached 41% in the first quarter of 2020, combined with the insufficiency of state policies to support workers in the context of the pandemic (especially the most vulnerable, for whom the emergency aid of insufficient R$XNUMX took a while to implemented and it still takes time to reach everyone who requested it, due to bureaucratic procedures) has meant that the number of people who resort to delivery apps as a way of earning a living has grown considerably since the social isolation measures were implemented[I]. This group includes black Brazilian youth: a survey carried out by Aliança Bike reveals that the profile of couriers is made up of 71% of black and brown people, with an average age of 24 years[ii].

But the self-promotional image of benefactors of an oasis of job opportunities in the scenario of crisis and structural unemployment that the app-companies tried to promote melts every day. As Alessandro Sorriso, president of the Association of Autonomous Motoboys and Delivery Persons of the DF,

these platforms arrived in Brazil offering super cool rates, saying that we are the boss and that we are our own boss, that we are autonomous, while, in fact, they are taking away our autonomy with this ranking and scoring system [… ] and they don't want to have any responsibility with us couriers [...] and they still block us without any justification. In the end, they treat us like disposable garbage.[iii]

Although named as entrepreneurs, in a cunning strategy to keep them from recognizing their condition as workers and the set of rights that it entails, the young delivery men quickly realized that they were closer to the historical figure of the “winners”, the prototype of informality occupied by the black population. in the post-abolition of slavery. With their bicycles and motorcycles, making tiresome and risky use of their own bodies, they assume, as once assumed the winners at the time of slavery or the coachmen and porters of pre-industrialization of transport in Brazil, the function of moving goods in the big cities. However, just as the winners did in Bahia in 1817 (João José Reis tells us about this historic strike[iv]) and the coachmen and porters in Rio de Janeiro in December 1906[v], the couriers understood that they had reached a limit in the exploration process.

The July 1st strike highlighted not only the mobilization force and political impact of app delivery people, but also a heterogeneity of political positions. Among the numerous claims, the request for an increase in the amount paid per ride and the setting of a minimum amount per delivery stand out, the end of unfair blockades to workers carried out by the applications, the creation of insurance against theft, accidents and death, the end of the scoring system and better working conditions, and, in particular, the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). In addition to these demands on companies, the demonstration presented broader ones that require political pressure and dialogue with the National Congress and local parliaments, as is the case of the debate on specific legislation that regularizes the category.

According to the couriers themselves, there was no consensus in the category regarding the postulation of recognition of the employment relationship, as many workers value the idea of ​​autonomy, which would be incompatible with registration in the work card. Although this dissent reveals a subjective dimension that flirts with the neoliberal narrative of self-employment, on the other hand, it is evident that the collective recognizes itself as workers, not entrepreneurs, as it claims typically labor rights and does so through the instrument of strike .

The form used by the couriers to mobilize the category highlights both the potentials and the limits of their organization. Using the same means that allow the existence of business-applications, that is, digital technology, couriers were able, in the midst of a pandemic, to organize a national unification of couriers - and even tried a Latin-American unification American. Through “lives” and “video conferences” on virtual social networks, they communicated instantly with anyone, anywhere. This ability of current information and communication technologies to serve as an instrument for the political organization of popular sectors was already evident in the 2011 mobilizations, known as the Arab Spring, in the emblematic demonstrations of June 2013 and, more recently, in 2018, in the strike of truckers.

However, if this virtual environment facilitated the mobilization of couriers, it also allowed digital platforms to boost strategies to divide them or weaken the stoppages. Many activists reported that the apps released, on July 1st, workers who were blocked or who were in the queue to join the activity, as well as made threats to block those who joined the mobilization.

One glaring strategy was that of iFood, which has implemented a differentiation of “contracts” between couriers, through the creation of two application entry systems: “Nuvem” and “OL”. The first, older and more common, allows the delivery person to activate the application at any time, organizing his own work schedule. In the "Logistic Operator" (OL) system, the worker is obliged to comply with a fixed schedule, agreed with the supervisor, from Monday to Sunday, being able to rest only one day between Monday and Wednesday and once a month on Sundays, with choose to work between breakfast, lunch, afternoon coffee and dinner. In this second case, couriers cannot reject the previously established “contract”. So, on the day of the stoppage, the OLs were summoned and the values ​​of the races for the two systems were increased with the aim of weakening the mobilization.

However, if it is still too early to point out the material gains of this category, the political gains obtained with the process of mobilization for the 1st of July are undeniable. They gave visibility to their demands and gained sympathy from those who consume the products they deliver. As Antonio Baylos teaches, the strike is, above all, a learning process[vi]. In this sense, perhaps the most important gain was the emergence, among couriers, of a class-oriented political faction. By classism we understand the tradition of the labor movement that sees itself as a working class and claims its political and organizational independence from the dominant classes, seeking to create forms of self-organization and international links.

It is, therefore, a highly politicized trend that is not satisfied with corporate struggle. The main example of this faction is the Antifascist Deliverers, a collective that emerged and expanded rapidly in the recent process of fighting against the Bolsonaro government, in defense of democracy and against racism. Within it, there are those who understand that the current moment is to unite the working class, as defended by its most prominent figure, Paulo Galo (SP), but there are also those who have sown the idea of ​​workers' self-management. As Eduarda Alberto (RJ) pointed out, in the Live organized by the Digital Work Research Group (UnB), the day before the stoppage,

Platform cooperativism is growing all over the world. We realize that as it has worked in these experiences, including bike delivery cooperatives have grown a lot across Europe; they are making open software available so that cooperatives can take it, appropriate it and transform it into their application [...] Our perspective is rather to create a cooperative so that we can continue to work in a fairer way, guarantee a more equal division of profit, more transparency.[vii]

In a historic moment in which the rise of the extreme right to power meets a pandemic with devastating effects on life and social cohesion, the couriers gave face and body to a set of questions about the death policy translated into the neoliberal intensification associated with fascism : this face is young, understands itself as a working class, is predominantly black, and, despite being in formation (and therefore in dispute), is willing to fight. The new strike call for 25/7/2020 reinforces this idea.

* Renata Dutra is a professor of labor law at the University of Brasília (UnB).

*Ricardo Festi is professor of sociology at the University of Brasilia (UnB).

Notes


[I] Recent research carried out by IPEA on the effects of the pandemic on workers' income reinforces our argument. According to data obtained from the IBGE's PNAD Covid-19, self-employed workers were the hardest hit, receiving only 60% of their usual income. On the other hand, among the least affected sectors of the economy are storage, couriers and delivery services. Therefore, it is evident that many self-employed workers (mostly informal) sought income as couriers through apps (Cf. CARVALHO, Sandro. “The effects of the pandemic on earnings from work and the impact of emergency aid: what they say microdata from PNAD covid-19”. weather chart, n. 48, 3rd quarter of 2020).

[ii] See http://aliancabike.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/relatorio_s2.pdf

[iii] Alessandro Sorriso (AMAE-DF), in Live “Fights and demands of APP delivery people in the DF”, mediated by Ricardo Festi, on June 30, 2020. See in https://bit.ly/31hKSFo.

[iv] REIS, Joao Jose. Winners: the 1857 black strike in Bahia🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2019.

[v] In the 1906 strike, the Associação de Resistência dos Cocheiros, Carroceiros e Classe presented a table of demands to the companies that owned the vehicles, which included an increase in the remuneration of drivers and a reduction in the working day. Cf. EARTH, Paulo Cruz. Citizenship and workers: coachmen and teamsters in Rio de Janeiro (1870-1906) / Thesis (Doctorate in History) – Fluminense Federal University, Institute of Human Sciences and Philosophy, Department of History, 2012. 313 fl.

[vi] BAYLOS, Antonio. “Sobre el derecho de Huelga”. Available in: http://www.fundacionsol.cl/2011/08/sobre-el-derecho-a-huelga/

[vii] Eduarda Alberto (Anti-fascist couriers - RJ), in Live “Fights and demands of APP couriers in the DF”, mediated by Ricardo Festi, on June 30, 2020. See in https://bit.ly/31hKSFo.

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