Digital slavery

Image: Tim Samuel


The app-based work PL does not create a different organization in the world of work, it only legitimizes the type of super-exploitation of work by app-companies

In a speech held on March 4, at the ceremony that presented the Bill for the Regulation of Work through People Transport Applications, the “Uber PL”, President Lula demonstrated his satisfaction with the “significant milestone in the world of work” achieved by creating “a new modality in the world of work”.

Progressive intellectuals such as jurist Jorge Luiz Souto Maior and economist David Deccache have since demonstrated as the proposal presented represents a historic setback in labor rights in Brazil, complementing Michel Temer's counter-reform, the Bolsonaro's pension reform and spending cap by Fernando Haddad. Therefore, far from being an (impossible) win-win outcome between workers and the company – as conveyed by the government – ​​it is a proposal for a business law.

Still, many doubts surround the left, motivated by the specificities of work mediated by digital platforms, by the controversies that emerged from the struggle processes of categories of workers platformed around the labor model governed by the CLT, by the reaction of the Bolsonarist base that calls for contrary demonstrations. to the PL for March 26th and even due to the location of the current government of class conciliation in the unfavorable correlation of forces between classes in Brazil.

This text seeks to discuss these issues and contribute to the construction of a solidary and classist perspective on the problem presented to the left by Uber's PL.

Platform capitalism and “subordinate self-management”

The basic assumption of the PL is the non-recognition of the employment relationship between the app-company and the platform worker, dealing with conflict issues based on the principle of free negotiation between Uber and the drivers, recognized as “self-employed”. Therefore, before getting into the project itself, it is important to understand some fundamental characteristics of platformed work.

We speak here of “app-company” not by chance. A central mechanism that allows the digital economy to present itself as an ideal to more broadly legitimize contemporary capitalism is precisely the idea that digital technologies are “natural, neutral and equal for all” (Amrute, 2021, p.70) . The starting point, then, is to consider these platforms as application companies, actors within the capitalist mode of production (Srnicec, 2018). These capitalist companies have expanded into different branches of the economy, inaugurating a new model of administration and control of production processes and the workforce.

It is an intermittent type of work, due to the effect of suspension between working time and non-working time. A characteristic that is not new in the socio-historical formation of the Latin American and Brazilian working class, which has always had a large contingent of black population, became widespread in the face of the structural crisis of capital, such as cybertariat, infoproletariat or global intermittents ( Huws, 2014).

Thus, in addition to the characteristic of piece-rate remuneration – in which the worker receives exclusively for the service provided, even if he/she has idle time waiting for work – there is poor remuneration, lack of social protection and transfer of costs and risks. It is for this reason that Srniceck calls companies like Uber, 99 and iFood as austere platforms (2018), precisely because of the high level of precariousness and exploitation of the workforce. It is no coincidence that Ricardo Antunes already stated that in the digital era there is an increase in forms of exploitation that recall the phase of primitive accumulation of capital, thus drawing a parallel between platformized work and slavery, which he calls digital slavery (Antunes, 2018).

In order not to lengthen the conversation, we cannot fail to consider among the fundamental characteristics of this type of work the control mechanisms governed by the obscure nature of algorithmic management. Those who consider that the application company's means of production are the automobile used to transport passengers or food are mistaken. As it is a digital platform, its main raw material is data, which is monopolized, extracted and analyzed in a completely obscure way, operating a despotic control: “not localizable, but rationalized” (Abílio, 2020). Thus, the worker, when arbitrarily blocked, is a victim of one of the many control and organization mechanisms of work by the application company.

For all the reasons above, there is a broad consensus in debates in the sociology of work about the worker's existing working relationship with the application company, in the form of subordinate self-management (Abílio, 2019).

Claims from platform workers and the CLT controversy

When the APP Crash broke out – for many as a surprise – in 2020, app deliverers very clearly presented a few concrete demands, around which thousands of workers moved across the country. On that occasion, part of the left began to demand that app delivery people should be included in the CLT regime, despite the movement's own demands. This refusal had a disconcerting effect on much of the left, which still refers to the social pact sought by the workers' rise in the 1980s.

The curious thing is that now that these same rights included in the CLT are threatened by Uber's PL, the conscience of the platform worker is evoked to justify the silence in the face of it.

Many things can be debated regarding the controversy over the CLT labor regime within this category: the transformations in the world of work, neoliberal rationality and the ideology of the self-entrepreneurial subject, the employer counter-offensive on labor rights and even the lack of knowledge , by significant portions of the generation of young workers, in relation to this labor regime. However, I consider that for practical purposes of the fight at this moment we just need to understand the following: what demands emerge from the labor-capital conflict on the part of those subject to super-exploitation by application companies?

This is because, despite the controversies regarding the work regime, there is no academic research or empirical data that points to the desire of these workers to subject themselves to strenuous working hours with poor pay, for obvious reasons, in addition to other problems caused by the lack of rights and social lack of protection.

The main demands that were expressed in the stoppages of app delivery people in Brazil were: increased rates (minimum and per mileage) and the end of unfair blockades. In other words, a demand for higher remuneration and an end to arbitrary punishment mechanisms that, in practice, result in many workers losing their jobs.

The PL in question, as you know, only covers the category of passenger app drivers, what has been called “four wheels”. In this category, the latest strikes mainly demanded an increase in remuneration, with an increase in the minimum rate, implementation of a minimum amount paid per kilometer and a reduction in the commission retained by the platforms.[I]

As part of the formation of the working group of the Ministry of Labor and Employment of the current government, a list of demands from trade unions and entities representing application workers was also presented, as a counter-proposal to the suggestions presented by the Brazilian Association of Mobility and Technology (Amobitec), which brings together applications such as Amazon, iFood, Uber, 99, Zé Delivery, Buser, Lalamove and Flixbus. This list of demands contained: (i) minimum remuneration of 35,76 reais for motorcycle couriers and 29,6 for bicycle couriers; (ii) the provision of a monthly basic food basket worth R$83; (iii) payment of life insurance with 24-hour coverage and minimum premiums of 41 thousand reais for death or disability and 3 thousand reais for funeral assistance; (iv) the guarantee of a health plan of 44,90 reais per month; (v) paid weekly rest of 208 reais for motorbikes and 192 reais for bicycles.[ii]

Furthermore, another interesting parameter for thinking about decent work in the digital economy is the Fairkwork Brasil scoring system, which has published reports for the second consecutive year with platform analysis results, with a view to tackling unfair conditions and the lack of social protections to which application workers are subject[iii]. Uber, for example, according to the 2023 report, scored 0 among the 10 minimum decent work parameters.

Scoring criteria in the Fairkwork system

To conclude this part, it is important to emphasize that regardless of the controversies surrounding the CLT labor regime, there are countless examples of claims and demands on the part of platform workers that point to their recognition as workers seeking rights, as well as accountability. of the application company that, as employers, guarantees decent and safe working conditions.

Why does Uber's PL represent a historic setback?

As stated at the beginning of this text, the basic assumption that justifies the super-exploitation, lack of rights and social security of application companies towards workers on these platforms is the non-recognition of the employment relationship. The point in Article 3 of the PL, in which the worker will be considered “self-employed platform worker” is, therefore, the complete legitimization of this perspective.

Jurist Jorge Luiz Souto Maior has also warned of the unconstitutionality of paragraph 2 of Art. 3, according to which “The maximum period of worker connection to the same platform cannot exceed twelve hours per day, in accordance with the regulations.” Contradicting ILO Convention 01 of 1919 and Article 7 of the 1988 Constitution, Uber's PL authorizes a working regime that, in fact, may far exceed the 12-hour working day.

It is essential to note the fact that, as stated in Article 9, paragraph 2: “only the period between the worker's acceptance of the trip and the user's arrival at the destination must be counted”. In other words, the 12pm only counts the running time, not the waiting and travel time. We are talking about workers who can work 16 hours a day or more, within the terms of this law!

Finally, the bill regulates a practice that does not exist in the CLT but has long been adopted by application companies: the right to punish workers. The art. 5th establishes “adoption of standards and measures to maintain the quality of services provided through the platform, including suspensions, blocks and exclusions, observing the rules previously stipulated in the terms of use and in the platform membership contracts”. And for those who argue that there has been progress in relation to transparency, it is enough to note that the bill determines that the terms for punitive measures are those previously stipulated in the platform's membership contracts. In other words, nothing new under the sun. Platforms will continue to have the discretion to create obscure criteria to discard workers, as has already happened so far.

Demystifying “progressive points”

Workers will not receive the minimum wage. The first parameter point of the Fairwork system for fair remuneration is “payment of the local minimum wage minus labor costs”. Deccache demonstrated, on social network X, that the worker will actually have to pay to work on this floor. This is because the cost value, effectively, is much higher than what is considered by Uber in the PL parameters. Furthermore, the floor is much lower than what is currently transferred from the application to the driver (approximately 75%), opening the possibility for Uber to reduce payments to drivers, remaining within the floor established by the PL.

No pension was created for drivers. App drivers, without the PL, could already contribute individually to social security as MEI. The way it is framed in the PL, it only means an increase in the rate. As Deccache demonstrates: “Today, as MEI, they pay 5% and can have access to the same system. This is, therefore, an increase in the rate. The worker will pay at least R$105,9. Today, as MEI, you pay R$70,60.

Supposedly, the company would pay a 20% contribution. In other words, in total there would be a 27,5% contribution on top of the net gain. However, given the company's market power, access to perfect and real-time information and the space it has to reduce remuneration as it already pays well above the established minimum, it will be able to transfer part or all of its contribution value to the driver and/or passenger, depending on market conditions. Therefore, we are creating, probably, the most expensive and regressive social security contributions in the world. Absurd.”[iv]

Maternity benefit is not regulated by the PL. Although it appears in a series of reports that the PL will regulate benefits such as maternity sickness benefit, there is not a single word in the Complementary Bill (PLP 12/2024) about women's rights, including maternity leave. What happens is that with the social security contribution, workers have this right, which would be guaranteed in the same way in the contribution as MEI, as already explained in the previous point.

Class solidarity for an anti-neoliberal agenda

To date, there is no express regulation for the carrying out of activities by companies that use digital platforms, with workers being considered self-employed. Therefore, the only way for these workers to have their rights recognized is by filing lawsuits in the Labor Court. However, if Uber's PL is approved, the regulation of this type of work could result in an even worse scenario than the current one, in which there are gaps for the dispute over labor rights among the controversies in the Labor Court. With the PL, regulation in favor of the interests of application companies will be governed by law.

It is, therefore, a reactionary measure for workers, providing legal security for application companies to continue implementing their model of super-exploitation based on precariousness and despotic control. There are also aggravating factors, such as the possibility of loss of remuneration and the increase in the cost of access to social security rights, which can also result in more expensive services for passengers.

It is evident, for all these reasons, that the proposal has displeased part of the category, feeding the social base of the extreme right, which has already sought to capitalize on this discontent for its reactionary program.

Far from an uncritical defense of the government, what the radical left must do is break the silence and fight for a classist alternative for app workers, who are an expression of an expanding trend in the world of work. There is still time to express our class solidarity, building an anti-neoliberal agenda that incorporates the struggles and needs of platform workers.

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


AMRUTE, S. Race as Algorithm: bored technology workers being casually racist. Frontiers Magazine, v. 23 n. 1 (2021): January/April, 11-28.

SRNICEK, N. Platform capitalism. Buenos Aires: Caja Negra, 2018

HUWS, U. et al. Work in the European Gig Economy. Buxelas: FEPS-Foundation for European Progressive Studies, 2018.

ABÍLIO, L. et al. Working conditions in digital platform companies: app-based delivery drivers during Covid-19. São Paulo: REMIR, 2020.

ABÍLIO, LC Uberization: Making entrepreneurship for self-management of subordinates. psychoperspectives , Valparaíso, v. 18, no. 3, p. 41-51, nov. 2019.

ANTUNES, R. The Privilege of Serfdom: The New Service Proletariat in the Digital Age. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2018.






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