From marginal mass to uberized

Image: Jos Peñarán
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By VANESSA MONTEIRO*

Why do we make racialization invisible in debates about the future of work?

In the first year of the global Covid-19 pandemic, the world was shaken by the black uprising that radiated from the heart of North American imperialism to the entire world. Tearing down statues and raising a radically anti-racist, anti-capitalist and anti-colonial thought, the movement Black Lives Matter expanded the discussion about structural and systemic racism. Still in 2020, the first national strike of app delivery people took place in Brazil, with international reach.

The APP crash placed these invisible workers at the center of the news and was responsible for a historic drop in the valuation of the country's largest delivery platform, iFood, indicating the commotion and support of large sectors of civil society for the strike. Both events seem to have taken us by surprise, despite shedding light on processes that are not recent and even more so on the future of the class struggle.

Our starting point for this text is the structural characteristics of the current era of deterioration of the capitalist mode of production and its effects on peripheral countries. If the debate about the development or not of productive forces in capitalism within the labor movement dates back more than a hundred years, the argument that capitalism currently allows the development of humanity is increasingly untenable. The climate emergency is the most explicit facet of this crossroads, but not the only one. In countries of the global south, the advance of destructive forces incorporates both the formation of a marginal mass and the policy of death, both affecting racialized peoples in particular.

Brazil, as Lélia Gonzalez pointed out in the late 1970s,[I] continues to be a kind of model of this uneven and combined development of the historical processes of capital accumulation, as it combines a dependent and neocolonial economy – until today based on the export of commodities – which brings previous productive forms with the formation of a mass marginalized from hegemonic processes. Lélia Gonzalez pointed out, more than 50 years ago, that the black Brazilian population had the lowest levels of participation in the workforce.

Racial privilege, even within the working class, is a component that effectively leads to a racial division of labor: “…it is no coincidence that the almost absolute majority of the Brazilian black population is part of the growing marginal mass : open unemployment, “refuge” occupations in pure services, occasional work, intermittent occupation and seasonal work, etc. (…) working fifty to one hundred days a year, without the guarantees of labor laws” (GONZALEZ, 1979).

Furthermore, it exposed systematic persecution, oppression and police violence as one of the cruelest mechanisms in the situation of black Brazilians in the workforce, according to which “every black person is a marginal until proven otherwise”. Finally, there is also the serious problem of unemployment among black youth.

Currently, we are a country with a still dependent economy, in a dynamic of deindustrialization and in a context of global economic stagnation. The global crisis of 2008 continues as a milestone in the collapse of neoliberal financialized capitalism, whose structural features are the tendency towards precarious work, the advancement of exploitation and plundering of workers and the massification of unemployment. The advancement of technologies since then and the boom in startups of technology are also an expression of the restructuring of capitalism in the face of this crisis, creating new forms of exploitation and accumulation of capital.[ii] The arrival of the pandemic catalyzed all these processes and caused the generalization of degrading living conditions for large portions of the population, increasing impoverishment, hunger and inequality that, in a country based on colonization, has class and race.

In Brazil, 73% of the black population lost income during the pandemic[iii] and is among the vast majority of those who lost their jobs in 2020, representing 71% of the total.[iv] The large-scale expansion of what Lélia Gonzalez called the marginal mass is manifested in the more than seven million discouraged black workers who left the workforce at the end of 2020, compared to less than 3 million among white workers. Racial inequality crosses all social layers in the country, demonstrating the validity of white privilege and the relative autonomy that exists in the race factor as a social marker of difference. According to research carried out by Sebrae, black entrepreneurs earned less, had a greater loss of revenue and are among the majority of defaulters compared to white entrepreneurs. Of these, black women were the most affected.

The surprising drop in unemployment in 2022 is actually behind the rapid recovery of informal jobs after the reopening of the economy, compared to formal jobs.[v] In other words, unemployment decreases because this portion that was previously outside the job market is entering precarious jobs, with longer hours and lower salaries. According to PNAD data, the informality rate in Brazil represents 40,1% of the employed population, totaling more than 38 million Brazilians, a social giant. Among black workers, one in two is informal. Thus, the number of young black people who work as app delivery people is growing rapidly, especially in large capitals. In São Paulo, according to the App Cyclist Delivery Driver Profile Survey, carried out by Aliança Bike, 71% of delivery drivers are black, work 14 hours a day and receive an average of R$963 per month.

Uberization, in addition to digital platforms, is a trend for the future of work, a new type of management and control of the workforce, consolidating “just-in-time” and on-demand models[vi] more of a rule than an exception. The process of informalization, that is, the loss of stable, contractually established and socially agreed forms, is not exactly a historical novelty for a peripheral country like Brazil. What happens, in the context of a crisis, is the spread – viral – of this peripheral condition; while making the lives of those who have historically been on the margins even worse.

It is worth highlighting that the social crisis linked to structural racism is extremely advantageous and profitable for these companies. According to a Euromonitor report, Brazil leads the world ranking in demand for delivery. Application companies are at the center of these numbers, due to low remuneration and devaluation of the value of the workforce,[vii] lowering the final price for customers. Since the APPs Crash occurred, we have not found in the press disclosure of the exact profit values ​​of iFood, which dominates the market in Brazil, concentrating over 80% of sales of delivered.[viii]

However, we know that until April 2020, iFood had a growth in revenue of 234%[ix] and 205% growth in its annual revenue, according to a report from Prosus, iFood shareholder.[X] The group also says that the delivery sector has a global market revenue potential of more than US$330 billion by 2022 and the prospect is to profit even more. It makes perfect sense, with these figures, for Prosus to celebrate in its report: “It was an extraordinary year!”

The condition of the delivery man who does not have labor and social security rights, who works exhausting hours to survive and who is the same body as a victim of State violence is inversely proportional to the profits of these companies. It is no surprise that iFood has in its origins a direct relationship with large companies that supported the apartheid in South Africa.[xi] As sociologist Léo Vinicius Liberato points out, “history weighs heavily on the present, and the past continues to take other forms, even in different geographies”. And so, racial segregation and black genocide weigh heavily on the present every day, which cannot be dissociated from the invisibilization and dehumanization with which companies like iFood deal with delivery people.

Rio de Janeiro, in this sense, is a prime example of the relationship between racial segregation and state violence in times of crisis. In Niterói, in November last year, Elias de Lima Oliveira, who was an iFood delivery man, was murdered by the police with a shot to the head. Just as Moïse, Jonathan, and the victims of the Jacarezinho and Vila Cruzeiro massacres, Elias were the target of the same vision: that every black person is marginal and therefore can be summarily executed.

Neoliberalism, authoritarianism and necropolitics are part of the same project. Capitalism and democracy have never been compatible. We speak of a mode of production built on colonialism, where authoritarian and racially hierarchical regimes prevailed. Today, in the midst of the neoliberal crisis, what we see is increasingly violent racism, which is expressed both in the deepening of social inequality and the perpetuation of this marginal mass made up of black men and women, and in coercion and extermination by state apparatus or private. From Black Lives Matter to Breque dos APPs, there is the same racialized body that today is at the center of the main forms of domination for the exploitation of the workforce and reproduction of capital.

Still, we were taken by surprise and it is with this “why” that we conclude our reflection. If the center of the current forms of domination of neoliberal capitalism in crisis are on the margins – in the countries of the global south, on racialized peoples, in the form of uberization of work and extermination policies – and if, as could be expected, they depart hence the main trends of the class struggle in our time, why do we – as a revolutionary left – lack the program and the obstinacy to respond to these problems? How much is behind a certain contempt for the organization of precarious people a fetish for the industrial worker who is increasingly a minority in the composition of the working class in our country?

How much is there behind the idea that these men are “more lumpens than workers” an assimilation of the racial division of labor, which justifies black people being thrown to the margins of hegemonic processes? From the blind perspective that specific struggles occur, we fail to see the potential of new worlds that pulsate with life and break down barriers. We trust that, with humility and a careful look, the spark of these confrontations can illuminate our paths.

*Vanessa Monteiro He has a master's degree in Anthropology from the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).

Notes


[I] GONZALEZ, Lélia. Black youth and the issue of unemployment. Presented at the annual meeting of the African Heritage Studies Association, titled “Black Youth and Unemployment”. In II Annual Meeting of The African Heritage Studies Association, Pittsburgh, April 26-29. 1979. Mimeographed.

[ii] SRNICEK, Nick. Platform capitalism. Buenos Aires: Caja Negra Editora, 2018.

[iii] https://observatorio3setor.org.br/noticias/no-brasil-73-da-populacao-negra-perdeu-renda-durante-a-pandemia/

[iv] https://www.cut.org.br/noticias/racismo-estrutural-segrega-negros-no-mercado-de-trabalho-548e#:~:text=De%20acordo%20com%20os%20dados,menor%3A%202%2C7%20milh%C3%B5es.

[v] https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/brasil-60148613

[vi] ABÍLIO, L, C. Uberization: The era of the just-in-time worker? Magazine of Advanced Studies, São Paulo, v. 34, no. 98, p.111-126, 2020. Available at:https://doi.org/10.1590/s0103-4014.2020.3498.008 >

[vii] https://bahia.ba/entretenimento/brasil-lidera-ranking-de-maior-demanda-de-delivery-no-mundo/

[viii] https://tecnoblog.net/especiais/ifood-domina-o-delivery-no-brasil-mas-restaurantes-e-rivais-contam-como-vao-reagir/

[ix] https://www.snaq.co/post/ifood-entregando-resultado-faturamento-cresce-234

[X] https://www.prosus.com/news/investors-annual-reports/

[xi] https://diplomatique.org.br/ifood-a-heranca-do-apartheid-no-brasil/


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