Coronavirus: Work under fire



Read an excerpt from the new book by the sociologist of work

The tragic imbrication between capital’s antisocial metabolism system, structural crisis and the coronavirus explosion or, if we want to use a strong synthesis, pandemic capital, has a clear discriminatory character in relation to social classes, as it is much more lethal for humanity than depends on your work to survive. The bourgeois class, including its retinues of senior managers, has its strong defense instruments (privileged hospital resources, housing conditions that allow them to choose the best conditions for carrying out their quarantines, etc.), while the class-that-lives-on-the- work fights to see who can survive, that is, suffer the brutality of the pandemic without materializing lethality.

Aggravated in the Brazilian particularity, the confluence between a destroyed economy, a shattered societal universe and a political crisis that is unspeakable, makes us a strong candidate for the human abyss, for a true collective cemetery. This is because we are experiencing an economy in recession that is heading towards a terrible and deep depression. It is not difficult to understand that this trend will further amplify the process of misery of large portions of the working class that already experience intense forms of labor exploitation, precariousness, underemployment and unemployment, since many of these contingents are in fact deprived of of social rights at work.

In this context, the pandemic also advanced amid the spread of digital platforms and apps, with a growing mass that does not stop expanding and that experiences the conditions that typify the so-called uberization of work. With no other possibility of finding immediate work, workers seek “jobs” at Uber, Uber Eats, 99, Cabify, Rappi, Ifood, Amazon, etc. and thus try to escape the biggest scourge, unemployment. They migrate from unemployment to uberization, this new form of servitude. As unemployment is an expression of the complete scourge, the uberization seemed to be an almost “virtuous” alternative.

The trend, visible well before the outbreak of the pandemic, was limpid and clear: reduction of live work, through the replacement of traditional activities by automated and robotized tools under informational-digital command, making live work more “residual” in plants digitally more advanced and pushing it towards the so-called “manual” activities or expanding the monumental surplus army of workforce, which does not stop expanding in this most destructive phase of capital.

If this process does not lead to the complete extinction of human labor activity (since machines do not create value, but enhance it), it has been triggering a new period of expansion of what Marx called dead labor (created through the introduction of new machinery informational-digital of which the internet of things is an example), and the consequent reduction of living work, through the replacement of human activities by automated tools under informational-digital command, in this era of “unquestionable” dominance of financialized global corporations.

This procedure, in and of itself dark and dark, has been worsening in the context of the coronavirus, which is one of its many creatures. In other words: the pandemic is the bundling of a system that is lethal in relation to work, nature, substantive freedom between genders, races, ethnicities, full sexual freedom, among many other dimensions of being in search of self-emancipation human and social.

The current despair of globalized capitalism (not to mention Brazilian capitalism) resides exactly in this point: without work there is no appreciation of capital, stamping its trait of an authentic parasite. The pressures, greater or lesser depending on the predatory and predatory intensity of the global and native, foreign and provincial bourgeoisies, are explained by the desperation aiming at the return of production, by the “return to normality” in a time of high lethality.

We know that capital has learned to deal with and face this dilemma that is vital to it. As its metabolic system cannot do without work, it has to impoverish, squander, corrode and destroy the human labor force. It is here that the machinations and hoaxes of its top managers (today called CEO, Chief Executive Officer), with its alchemies, its lexicons, its mockery, its obliterations and manipulations. The individualization, the invisibilization and the complete elimination of labor rights are part of the golden dream of capital, now that the digital, online, robotic and automated world can coexist with degraded, vertebrate, disorganized, isolated, fragmented and fractured work.

That's why I recently suggested the hypothesis that platform capitalism, the one driven and commanded by large global corporations, has something that resembles the protoform of capitalism. In the middle of the 4.0st century, with algorithms, artificial intelligence, internet of things, big data, Industry 5, XNUMXG and everything else we have from this informational arsenal, there is no lack of evidence that true laboratories of work experimentation are in progress, with a high dose of exploitation of work, which are even worse with the extension of uberized work to the most different activities, in addition to the expansion of home office, telework and, in the educational universe, EAD (Distance Learning), to name just a few examples.

From a business point of view, the advantages are evident: more individualization; less solidary and collective relationship in the workspace (where awareness of their real conditions flourishes); distance from union organization; growing trend towards the elimination of rights (as we already know in pejotizados and other similar forms, such as small entrepreneurship); end of the separation between working time and life time (since the disastrous goals are found internalized in the subjectivities that work); and what is also of great importance, we will have more duplication and juxtaposition between productive work and reproductive work, with a clear impact on the intensification of female work, which may further increase the unequal socio-sexual and racial division of work.

If this reality of work spreads like a plague in periods of “normality”, it is evident that in this viral period, capital has been carrying out several experiments that aim to expand, post-pandemic, the mechanisms of intensified and enhanced exploitation of work in the most diverse sectors of the economy.

Thus, global corporations present the prescription to get out of the crisis, a true obituary for the working class: more flexibility, more informality, more intermittence, more outsourcing, more home office, more telecommuting, more EAD, more algorithms “commanding” human activities, aiming to convert work into a new automaton appendix of a new digital machine that, if it seems neutral, actually serves the unconfessable designs of the autocracy of capital.

And all of this takes place under the tight hegemony of money capital, of financial capital, this true mysterious source that drives day after day, without any break and with much fatigue, physical and psychic, corporeal and mental, this mill that moves only to generate more wealth. privately appropriated. Thus, if the structuring elements of this system of antisocial metabolism of capital are preserved, we will have more unemployment and more social inequality, and whoever is “lucky” to remain working will experience a disastrous binomial: greater exploitation and more plunder. Either that or unemployment.

If toxic capitalism has been like this, which cannot offer anything that does not contemplate destruction, we are (102 years after the “Spanish flu”) experiencing pandemic or viral capitalism, the one in which “true experiments in corpore vili [experiments in a worthless body], like those that anatomists perform in frogs”, to recall the text by Marx that gives the epigraph to our booklet Coronavirus: Work under fire. It is worth recalling Iside Gjergji and his suggestive conceptualization of the body-class (when dealing with torture and torture in capital society) [1]. Mass contamination and the greater lethality of the pandemic have a clear corporeal dimension, the body of the class-that-lives-from-work. even if you have

After an initial polyclassist appearance, the pandemic of capital is in fact much more disastrous when it affects the body-class of white working women, and more intensely the body-class of black workers, indigenous peoples, immigrants, refugees, LGBTs, etc.

So, if we let capitalism respond to the crisis, its proposal is clear: force the workforce to work even harder and thus discover the underground parts of Dante's Inferno.

But, as we are in an exceptional moment in history, one of those rare moments when everything that seems solid can wither, it is urgent, then, to reinvent a new way of life. It is necessary to design a new modality of human and social work, conceiving it as a vital, free, self-determined activity, based on the available time, contrary to alienated salaried work, which typifies the society of capital, including (and more intensely and subtly) ) in the informational-digital phase.

And just as vital as the work is the environmental issue, given the unavoidable need to preserve (and recover) nature, preventing in every way the uncontrolled escalation of its complete destruction. Global warming, contamination of rivers and seas, fossil energy, pesticides, transgenics, mineral extraction, fires, destructive industry, predatory agribusiness, all expressions of pandemic capital that cannot continue its antisocial metabolism without intensifying the destruction of nature (human, organic and inorganic) in all its dimensions. If this is what viral capitalism is like, we have no alternative: it is necessary to reinvent a new way of life. And that is the greatest imperative of our time.

*Ricardo Antunes is Full Professor of Sociology of Work at IFCH/UNICAMP. Author, among other books, of The privilege of servitude (Boitempo, 2020).


Richard Antunes. Coronavirus: Work under fire. E-Book. Sao Paulo, Boitempo, 2020.


[1] GJERGJI, I. Sociology of torture Immagine and practice of postmodern supplizio. Venezia Edizioni Ca' Foscari – Digital Publishing, 2019.


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