In the commodification of life

Image: Cyrus Saurius


The individualistic discourse and the word “entrepreneurship” enchant and trivialize

We often say that accidents happen: wrong decision, wrong time, human or mechanical failure or unexplained factors. Almost always the approach is to identify whether there was imprudence, human error, mechanical failure. Individualizing guilt is the most fruitful way to reproduce our sociability smoothly.

Individualizing blame is the other side of the coin of self made man. There is no society. There is a collective of people mediated by the market. In this collection of individuals, it is possible to win through individual effort or ability. There is no structure! The market, with its invisible hand, justly rewards hardworking and competent people. It rewards even those who possess an “intelligent faith”. Injustices are mere fruits of unwanted interventions in this “perfect” structure.

It doesn't take much effort to historically and statistically demonstrate such an absurdity. Similarly, it is possible to state that tragedies happen, but social contexts more or less favor the occurrence. Individual decisions may occur due to pressure to increase productivity. Mechanical failures may occur more in contexts where there are market opportunities to make the operation cheaper. Without oversight, competition dictates what stays and what doesn't. However, for many, the possible calculation is price. Even though there are “n” theoretical tergiversations that, in a given period of time, the best will remain, there are sectors in which the lack of supervision takes lives before consumers realize who the “best” are.

On November 25, 2020, little Itaí cries. Brazil dawns with the news of the tragedy. A bus and a truck collide on the SP-249 highway in the Taquarituba-Taguaí stretch. There were 51 people involved. At the end of the day, there were 41 dead. Except for the truck driver, the dead were employees of Stattus Jeans Indústria e Comércio Eireli. The bus driver is currently in critical condition.

The press superficializes it by reducing its “complaint” to three points: (a) Geison Machado, the truck driver, could not drive that truck because he did not have a category “D” license; (b) the bus company that took employees to Status Jeans, in Taguaí, had been irregular since the end of 2019; (c) human error is likely, as a prohibited overtaking by the bus driver is being investigated. As in the logic of meritocracy, of “intelligent faith”, of self made man, there is no context, but a collection of individual decisions that came together “by chance”.

It's not like that. Stattus Jeans' lawyer, Emerson Fernandes, confirmed to UOL that the bus was a “kind of 'loading' contracted by the employees themselves with no direct connection with Stattus Jeans”. This situation does not happen by chance. Before the 2017 Labor Reform, companies had greater legal responsibility for the worker on the way to the company and made the issue of transportation more serious. When it was not possible to get a transport voucher to use public transport, it was safer for the company to hire transport. Given their responsibility, there were incentives to check the regularity of the contracted company, demand adequate conditions in the vehicle used, plan the route and schedule to guarantee safe conditions and in compliance with traffic legislation. Article 21, IV of Law 8.123/91 includes as an accident at work an accident that occurs “on the way from the residence to the workplace or from there to the workplace, whatever the means of transportation, including a vehicle owned by the insured”. The general rule was to consider the accident on the way as an occupational accident for social security benefits and stability after the accident, including the legal obligation to issue the Occupational Accident Communication (CAT) sent to Social Security. The company's civil liability (material and moral damages) was not automatic, but could be subject to legal action.

It so happens that the 2017 Labor Reform amended paragraph 2 of article 58 of the CLT: “The time spent by the employee from his residence to the effective occupation of the job and for his return, walking or by any means of transport, including that provided by the employer will not be computed in the working day, as it is not time available to the employer” (Law 13.467, of 2017). Without completely invalidating the aforementioned provision of law 8.123/91, the labor reform changed and made the understanding of the issue controversial. By not considering working hours, there are loopholes for companies to exempt themselves from any and all responsibility, including the completion of the CAT is no longer mandatory. In order to legally obtain something after the accident, the worker needs to prove that there was some violation or negligence on the part of the company. Some gain in legal proceedings is possible, but the burden of proof rests with the worker. Thus, without the provision of transport by the company, it is more difficult to prove the breach or negligence of the employer.

To make matters worse, in order to resolve this and other controversies, the Bolsonaro/Guedes government enacted MP 905/19, called the Green and Yellow Contract. By this MP, even social security rights (benefits and stability) could no longer be claimed by the worker in an accident on the way, suspending, among other measures, article 21, item IV of Law 8.123/91.

Transportation voucher up to date, for each worker who manages to arrive. Collectively, for practical and economic reasons, many workers come together to charter buses and vans to reach companies where public transport does not reach efficiently. There is not much objective condition for these workers to demand a regularized company, verify the preventive maintenance of the vehicle. In the case at hand, we are talking about workers in the context of Taguaí, whose salary floor for a seamstress is R$ 1.071,48, the average is R$ 1.173,98 and the salary ceiling is R$ 1.774,16, a textile proofreader receives an average salary of R$ 1.138,00. That's it: most of the people involved in the accident were at that tragic place and time in irregular and precarious transport in reaction to a reduction in labor rights.

“Ah! But, it could happen on a regular bus provided by the company!”. It could, but it didn't. The context of the case is riddled with irregularities that favored the occurrence of the tragedy. And, for Stattus, there are two problems: (1) MP905 was revoked in the Chamber, was not analyzed in the Senate and expired on April 20 of this year; (2) Star Fretamento e Locação Eireli EPP claims to have been hired by Stattus, not by the workers. We do not know when the workers on that bus were hired, but every worker hired between January 1st and April 20th does not even have guaranteed social security coverage, following the MP regime. The family members of the others (if hired in another period) may face a long legal process to try to hold the company liable, even if indirectly or jointly. We also do not know whether Stattus contracted or not, if it mediated or just tries to make it difficult to characterize the “violation and/or negligence”.

We live in a process in which, as our economy deindustrializes and reduces formal jobs, the appeal to “undertake”, “win for oneself”, “not depend on a boss” increases. As if it were possible for a society with a thriving economy composed mostly or entirely by “entrepreneurs of themselves”. The individualist discourse and the word “entrepreneurship” enchant and become commonplace. Entrepreneur, in an attractive way, began to designate in the social imaginary each and every individual with a “own business”. Even if this business is the result of the most basic need, it does not solve a problem for society, it does not innovate, saturate and devalue entire activities or professional sectors. There is even a term for everyone who needs to turn around to eat: “necessity entrepreneurship”.

“The future belongs to entrepreneurs!” Of those who strive and seek ways to win for themselves. The future belonged to Geison Machado, who told his plans for his wife at the weekend. The 22-year-old's future was interrupted between Taguaí and Taquarituba. Geison did not return to Paraná with new plans and in the media, in addition to being the victim of an alleged illegal and reckless overtaking of the bus, he was treated as an irregular driver without a category “D” driving license. The same business communication complex that sells illusions of winning in life without depending on anything and anyone, as if resources magically sprouted, did not recognize that Geison followed these sold illusions even at the time of his death. He will be able to rest in peace, not without first being exposed for dreaming.

On the other hand, the bus driver, in serious condition, struggles to survive. If he luckily succeeds, he will try to prove his innocence. There will be no leniency for the context of your decision. The question now is just this: did he overtake in an irregular place? Was there a mechanical failure? Why was he driving an irregular vehicle?

There is no question why, in a context of precarious work, various forms of “alternative” transport appear in abundant numbers. Transport drives the economy by reducing costs: let Stattus Jeans tell us! Phenomena like this only gain media attention in tragedy or in superficial and opportunistic denunciation. It doesn't matter if the driver's haste was due to the pressure of making I don't know how many journeys to survive in times of crisis. It doesn't matter to know why the company, regulated until October 2019, has not been regularized again, because it was registered with ARTESP and not with ANTT, because it made a journey without authorization from the competent bodies. The economic context that led the company and the driver to that curve does not matter, it only matters to identify individual responsibility. Once identified, the driver and/or Transport Eireli will be treated as solely responsible for the whole tragedy, without considering how much this pressure to always undertake, regardless of material conditions, produces misfortunes.

It is clear: the point is not to relieve people of individual responsibilities. But, understand how such responsibilities come from a social structure. Pointing out individuals without discussing contextual issues only foments the desire for revenge, disguised as an appeal for justice. However, there is only justice in a societal perspective. Justice advocates an ideal state of sociability. In the inquisitorial courts of workers and small “entrepreneurs”, accomplices of the State's negligence and benevolent to big capital, there is no common good.

How many young people worked temporarily at Stattus Jeans? How many young people who, due to material conditions, used the flexibility of remote teaching in schools or colleges to “help with the household bills” and “earn some to undertake”. After all, isn't it said that the winner works while others dream?

We all know the result: in this case alone, 41 lives do not dream, do not act and will not even be able to “undertake” more. The individual causes will be exhaustively repeated. The structural issues that led them to that curve cannot be discussed in the press. In a scenario of low economic complexity, they act to instill in us the desire to undertake, regardless of our class situation, the scarcity of resources, even if our body is the price to pay for the “wheel of the economy to turn”. Some lamb always has to be sacrificed to revive faith in the extraordinary!

*Jefferson Nascimento is a professor at the Federal Institute of São Paulo (IFSP) – Campus Sertãozinho.


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