It's the job, stupid!

Image: Jade


What is on the agenda in the debate about the repeal of the labor reform is not just the citizenship rights of the majority of the population; it is also what Brazil we want to build

The presidential campaign begins with extremely positive signs. The big news is that the dispute agenda in recent days is the issue of work. Major media editorials try to hide the matter. So far it has been useless. The theme affects the entire Brazilian population, it is the organizing factor of the economy and involves social rights, struggle for equality, race, gender, age and the role of the State.

In other words, it is an umbrella that favors the left and opens a window of opportunity to politicize the confrontation to be fought until October. Let us remember that the general agenda of the 2018 election was corruption, something that put the left on the defensive and gave ample advantage to biased judgments that fell like a glove to the façade conservative moralism that favored Bolsonaro.

That is why the editorials have already shouted: “Lula has made it clear that he follows the same mistaken ideas for the country. Without any blush, he explains that he has stopped in time. (…) Recently, Lula and the PT president, Gleisi Hoffmann, defended the revision of the labor reform approved by Congress during the government of Michel Temer”. The crazy lines above were copied from the editorial of the newspaper The State of S. Paul, on January 9, 2022. Faria Lima's spokesman tries to oppose labor legislation to citizenship, as if that were possible. Angela de Castro Gomes, in her The Invention of Labor summarizes a comprehensive view on the subject: “The issue of citizenship in Brazil involves the issue of social rights”. We can say that today, such prerogatives are expressed in the right to work.

Thus, the action of the mainstream media, Faria Lima and other right-wing political agents is brutal: the subject should not even be discussed. Let's remember the reasons.

Agenda theory. Since researchers Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw, professors of journalism at the University of North Carolina, conducted a meticulous study on the victorious campaign of Republican Richard Nixon over Democrat Hubert Humphrey, in the presidential elections of 1968, it has become noticeable that whoever sets the agenda of a dispute enters with a clear advantage in the dispute. More important than convincing the voter of an idea is dragging the debate to a favorable terrain for one of the parties. The dispute would become much more efficient with this displacement.

Lula won in 2002 because the issues of economic crisis, unemployment, poverty and the 2001 blackout became dominant. All these agendas put the FHC government and its candidate José Serra on the defensive. The work category can be even broader, as it involves practically all life in society. Let us take a classic argument, a well-known passage by Marx, in Book I of The capital. There, he writes the following: “Work is, above all, a process between man and nature, a process in which man, by his own action, mediates, regulates and controls his metabolism with nature. (...) Acting on external nature and modifying it through this movement, he modifies, at the same time, his own nature. It develops the powers that lie dormant in it and submits the play of its forces to its own domain”.

And it is the division of labor – starting with intellectual (or spiritual) work and material work – that guides the organization of society, according to Marx. Or, simplifying to the extreme – we can say that work is the great organizer of social relations.

What is on the agenda in the debate on labor laws is therefore not just the citizenship rights of the majority of the population (as if that were not enough). It is what Brazil we want to build. When Getúlio Vargas brought together several scattered laws in the Consolidation of Labor Laws (CLT), in 1943, his goal was to shape an industrial society that would have a contingent of disciplined, organized workers with defined income (wages) as a precondition for existence. It would be the basis of the expansion of the domestic market. Without this, with defined rules, there is no manufacturing industry, there is no development and there is no citizenship under capitalism.

The work agenda enters the campaign due to the very high internal unemployment, job insecurity and the opportunity shown by the Minister of Labor of Spain, the communist leader Yolanda Díaz, to re-discuss the 2012 reform in her country. It comes in because it is the great way out of neoliberal barbarism, informality, the lack of rules and laws and the increase in social oppression.

It is impossible to predict the course of this dispute. It will depend on social pressure, on the action of the centrals and the union movement, on the other organizations of the popular movement, on the parties that form the front headed by Lula, starting with his association, the Workers' Party. I repeat: debating the category of work means debating social and political rights, citizenship, internal market, economic priorities and state organization. Together with the questioning of the spending cap, we can have a highly politicized campaign that focuses on the real dramas of people's daily lives.

Needless to say, issues such as a new fiscal anchor to satisfy Faria Lima and the rest of the country, as ex-minister Nelson Barbosa has said, the ripple made by sectors of the left itself on an unimportant topic such as the choice of vice president on Lula's ticket and the attempts to wear down former president Dilma Rousseff, in practice, create noise at the doors of a difficult and possibly violent journey, but in which the progressive sectors start with a clear advantage.

As James Carville, former special adviser to Bill Clinton, would say in a memorable sentence: – It's the job, stupid!

*Gilberto Maringoni is a professor at the Federal University of ABC.

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