Technological mutations and work crisis

Image: Paul Volkmer


Revoking the "reform" is insufficient, without new guardianships, informality will win the day

Evolution is slow and indeterminate. The revolution is sudden, disruptive. Mutations may not be immediately visible, but their accumulation revolutionizes the future and fixes the boundaries of the past. And the past, in each historical cycle, is no longer the same. CLT protection no longer encompassed the new work processes that already demanded a new protective system as efficient as the CLT was in Fordist industrial capitalism.

The “mutations” that occur in the work process, which give rise to – as Bayon Chacon asserts – “mandatory regulations dictated for each profession are so meticulous and casuistic that it leaves little room for action to the will of the parties”[1] The mutations that occur in the “short time” (...), “not always (are) perceived (immediately) in their dimension”, as their “background arc” develops in the “long time”[2]. At some point, however, the historical accumulation of science and technique generates revolutionary technological transformations, such as those that are now underway.

It is ironic that the infodigital revolutions – procedural “mutations” inherited and visible as ruptures in the present time – have been pointed out as foundations for the liberation of work as a “penalty”, considered adequate to reduce the working day. Today it is seen that they generate their opposite all over the world: greater rigidity in the “eyes of master”, through new controls derived from technological processes and, at the same time, more intermittency, precariousness, job cuts and wage devaluation. It will take some time (long?) for a structural reformulation of the labor doctrine to be built in a way that is compatible with the capacity to affect this new scenario.

Everything indicates that the future doctrine will have to withdraw from the abstract protection of any dependent work relationship -which will be fragmented into multiple dependencies- in order to create trenches in defense of the minimum fundamental rights. In a way, it is Labor Law returning to its origins, from which it emerges – as Walter Kaskel stated – honoring the idea of ​​protection that was constituted as “a legal system in which its subjects are only configured in a position of equality, thanks to the special protection given to one of them.[3], namely – at the time – the working class of the nascent industrial revolution.

The replacement of work and services provided directly by humans, given the chaining of controls and artificial intelligence processes, while reducing the intervention of the productive subject (“subject of rights”) in production and management, did not reduce the workday. On the contrary, as a rule, they increased it.

Thus, quality jobs withered, boosted poorly paid precarious services and requested intermittent services – in the simplest and most traditional functions – which continue to be necessary for production, even considering the sophistication of technology and universal sciences.

With the great technological transformations that have taken place over the last fifty years – especially with the importance and profitability of the financial sector on a global scale – changes in the banking sector, for example, have been exponential. With the tendency to replace workers destined to carry out the simplest tasks – from “cash boxes” to “clerks”, from “couriers” to modest service managers -, with the reduction in the number of employees, the financial system has increasingly transformed its branches in a nursery of technicians programmed by the machines, operating non-stop 24 hours a day.

It is a movement that inaugurates, the time in which capitalism demands unlimited availability and capacities of few, highly qualified workers, in the center of the system, to deal with the peculiarities of the financial market (without apparent control of working hours) and, in the “base” of demand, so many boring and poorly paid jobs. It is a solution whose immediate "appearance" implies that pure technical qualification (to deal with machines) is what obtains "results" for the employer - by the simple quantitative addition of command power -, and not what effectively is. : the emergence of the symmetrical substitute for the classic power of command of the employer that existed in the old agencies, which was fulminated by the new technologies and techniques of work organization. The employer's depersonalization is followed by a greater “cosification” of the provider's mind.

The era in which managers as the “long manus” of capital, in addition to dealing with customers, employees and even the company's central managers, had large margins of autonomy and a real “representation” of the employer was thus overcome. . Today, the new bank management, for example, and all other services based on new infodigital technologies, as well as their other “trust” and “general management” positions, as a rule, are extensions of machines programmed to offer products already cataloged by the new technological standards of a system.

The forms acquired by these offers drastically reduced trust "intuitu personae”, as they appear before the customer as they are controlled and programmed, regardless of any “management” initiative. This management is, nowadays, an illusionist episode of a simulated autonomy, because, in fact, it is a process that also invades the employee's free time – foreseen in all civilized legislation – transforming it into time permanently coordinated and subordinated to the strategic purposes of the company.

The consequences of these mutations, brought about by a necessary “flexibility” in work relations, have become problematic. In the sphere of individual labor relations, they subordinate human action to the programmed machine. In terms of collective relations -which gave stability to the bonds between companies and workers in the social democratic pact -, the crisis is more evident: the relationship between the contracting parties is accompanied by the intention of “cutting labor rights in favor of less labor rigidity, but (without) providing unions with capabilities and means to protect workers against the risks of corporate arbitrariness”[4]. The consequence will be the revaluation of the individual right to work, which, provisionally, will become a refuge both from the fragmentation and from the impotence of the new professions.

The claim of an indefinite journey for a merely formal “manager” is a consequence that is the tip of an “iceberg” that does not dissolve, but grows. It is the consequence of a profound change in the work process, with a centralized programming of services designed directly to also use the consumer as a provider, with speed and uniform quality of services for market disputes.

The customer, on the other hand, with his new bonds offered by new technologies, "helps" the employer to replace the employees who were destined to carry out the simplest operations, when they get used to dealing with complex machines in the company, which link them to the intelligence of the system. In this way, the buyer of banking services, for example, also becomes integrated, in his consumer action, as subject and object of the chain of decisions programmed by the center that directs the company's strategic purposes.

As for management, this process calls into question the nature of the employer's “trust” and “representation”; as for concrete work itself, there is certainly an increase in hours at the “top”, followed by longer unskilled hours and poor pay at the bottom; As for the “way of life”, salaried workers in the sector begin to experience this situation of apparent liberation from living work as a permanent “impulse to unemployment”[5]. In order to respond to these mutations, it is necessary to unveil what the doctrine should conform to as “autonomy, which is refined in the new historical conformation of labor law”[6], so that it does not lose its authenticity of protecting employees.

In times of flexibilization of labor relations, resulting from the programmed change in the forms of production and services, the traditional edifice of labor doctrine is shaken. Legal categories and conceptual statutes such as “hierarchy”, “trust”, “subordination”, change in time and space. They are subsumed, one into the other, cancel each other out, reinforce each other, become coated with new, fragile, flexible and more insecure legal forms, like the concrete world of work that surrounds them.

This same impasse, although in different historical conditions, already drew attention to the specificity of Labor Law at the heart of industrial development: “The legal void that implied the liberal regime is now just a memory. Today, labor provision is not a mere leasing of services, but the integration of the human factor into a production cell to which it is linked in the vicissitudes it goes through, and is regulated not only by the general and adjective rules (...) often of the CLT, if not by the regulations dictated for each profession in a mandatory, non-derogable manner and so meticulous and casuistic that they leave scarce margins of action to the will of the parties”[7].

In the specific case of the savage labor reform carried out in Brazil, as important as its clearly unconstitutional provisions being revoked, it is necessary to propose a new protective statute for the unprotected barbarism, to which the majority of workers, intermittent, precarious, “half-journalists” have been thrown. ”, false self-employed, informal in misery or counterfeit “pejotas”.

These “scarce margins” of free will, today transform the necessary flexibility (which is the antithesis of Fordism) in the subordination of the worker to the already programmed infodigital machine. Sennett's formula is appropriate when he recalls: "the system of power that is hidden in modern forms of flexibility consists of three elements: discontinuous reinvention of institutions, which represents flexible behavior - as if demanding the desire for change -, (which is ) a certain type of change, with certain consequences for our time, (as) a system (which is) fragmented into elastic networks; the flexible specialization of production, the antithesis of the production system incorporated in Fordism; and the concentration of power without centralization, which is a type of organization that decentralizes power, overloading the lower categories – (it is) a network of unequal and unstable relationships, whose control is established by production targets, instituted where there is strong pressure , beyond (and superior to) the production capacity of these small institutions”.[8]

These new concentrations of power are not a business “option”, but the concrete result of the firm control that the company needs to carry out – by its superior management – ​​over what is left of the concrete provision of work on behalf of others, by humans. Work that flows, both in intelligent collaboration networks and in the horizontal cooperation system between companies, whose forms are organized for new production and cooperation processes, in the “internet” world, which links them to consumption.

*Tarsus in law he was Governor of the State of Rio Grande do Sul, Mayor of Porto Alegre, Minister of Justice, Minister of Education and Minister of Institutional Relations in Brazil. Author, among other books, of possible utopia (Arts & Crafts).



[1] CHACON, Gaspar Bayon. La Autonomia de la Voluntad in El Derecho Del Trabajo. Madrid: Editorial Tecnos, SA, 1955, p. 21.

[2] ALENCASTRO, Luiz Felipe. “Tradition and Disruption”. In: Mutations – essays on the new configurations of the world. Org.: Adauto Novaes. São Paulo: Agir / Edições SESC SP, p. 377.

[3] LOPEZ, M. Carlos Palomeque; VILLA, Luis Henrique de La. Lecciones de Derecho del Trabajo. Madrid: Instituto de Estudios Laborales y Seguridad Social, 1977, p. 756.

[4] PRECIADO, Juan Moreno; GRAU, Antonio Baylos. Comisiones Obreras Paso a Paso – from the origins in Francoism until La Huelga General de December 1988. Spain: Editorial Bomarzo, p. 248.

[5] MORE, Domenico de. “Sviluppo senza lavoro”. Rome: Edizione Lavoro Rome.

[6] CORREA, Jaime Montalvo. Fundamentals of the Right to Work. Madrid: Civitas, 1975, p. 246.

[7] CHACON, Gaspar Bayon. La Autonomia de la Voluntad in El Derecho Del Trabajo. Madrid: Editorial Tecnos, SA, 1955, p. 21.

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