The advance of the precariousness of female work in Brazil

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By CLAUDIA MAZZEI NOGUEIRA, LUCI PRAUN & MARIANA SHINOHARA RONCATO*

The fight against the precariousness of women's work is also anti-capitalist

In early April, a 26-year-old woman died from a burn that covered 85% of her body. Angelica Rodrigues, Brazilian, burnt herself while using ethanol alcohol to cook her food instead of cooking gas. Angélica was a day laborer. Like so many others, she was unemployed during the covid-19 pandemic and without basic resources for her survival.

In 2020, at the height of the pandemic and as a result of the economic crisis, the federal government created emergency aid for the socially vulnerable population. After much pressure on the government, five installments of 600 reais were made available. Under more pressure, another four, of 300 reais, were paid. These were added to seven more monthly installments, this time with amounts ranging between 150 and 375 reais. The aid, completed in 2021, was obviously not enough either in the political or economic dimension.

It is in this context of numerous difficulties for the working class that the domestic gas cylinder, which has become inaccessible to Angélica, reached, in the first months of 2022, an average cost of 113 reais. This value corresponds to about 12% of the average income of a domestic worker. In the last year, the accumulated increase of this product exceeded 23%. However, the average income of Brazilian female workers, equivalent to 80% of that earned by men, has declined.

In March 2022, the accumulated inflation in 12 months already reached 11%, setting the highest inflationary increase for this month in the last 28 years. Two months earlier, in January, in the city of São Paulo, the basic basket, consisting of a set of foods necessary for the minimum maintenance of a family, had already reached the cost of 713 reais, consuming about 60% of the minimum wage, which is 1.200 reais (DIEESE, 2022a).

On the one hand, a name, a life and the story of an unemployed Brazilian worker, a victim of State negligence and capitalist exploitation. On the other hand, an account that does not close even for a significant portion of those who manage to remain in the job market. The salary received by a considerable part of the Brazilian working class is far from corresponding to the minimum necessary for the reproduction of their lives and those of their families.

In Brazil, according to data from PNAD-C (Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios Continua), the real average monthly income of male and female workers in the quarter from December to February 2022 was 2.511 reais. This value, already below what is necessary for survival, is about two and a half times greater than the average value received, for example, by domestic workers, a group to which Angélica, the worker mentioned at the beginning of this text, belonged. Brazilian domestic workers received, in the same period, an average of 992 reais per month (IBGE, 2022).

The way in which the size of the basic basket of the working class is determined largely depends on the social struggles that it leads, always with the aim of increasing the value of its workforce. However, it is important to point out that this amount varies enormously according to gender, race and nationality (Bhattacharya, 2017). For this reason, for women and people of color – in the Brazilian case, the black population –, the salary will always be lower, unemployment and the informality of work higher, directly impacting the social reproduction of their lives. These class-internal cleavages, far from being marginal to the capitalist mode of production, in our view, represent its ordinary functioning.

 

Gender and race in the context of advancing precarious work

Gender and race, therefore, in addition to “factors” or “variables” that, articulated to class, contribute to the understanding of labor relations, constitute, in this perspective, social determinants of difference. In Lorde's words, “refusing to recognize difference makes it impossible to see the different problems and pitfalls we women face” (2019, p. 243).

Understanding the place occupied by Brazilian women in the world of work presupposes, therefore, a reflection that considers both the peculiarities of our historical formation, as a slave-owning and dependent country, as well as the local expressions of the global advance of neoliberalism, the financialization of the economy, and the accentuated flexibilization of work and dismantling of social rights, a situation aggravated throughout the pandemic context.

In Brazil, the covid-19 pandemic is already spreading under the effects of Constitutional Amendment nº 95, of 2016, which made official, as of 2018, the strangulation of public investment capacity in health, education, sanitation, among other key sectors . In the wake of this measure, two counter-reforms were approved by the Brazilian parliament, labor and social security.

The first counter-reform instituted, together with the approval of the unrestricted outsourcing of the workforce, the expansion of temporary work, the possibility of intermittent employment, the figure of the self-employed person who can work continuously and exclusively for a single company, among so many other devices clearly aimed at increasing turnover, lowering rights, and preventing access to justice.

The second, in turn, by instituting, amid the dismantling of labor rights, social security payments for 35 years for women and 40 years for men, eliminated the possibility of retirement for millions of Brazilian workers. Once again, due to the markedly precarious way in which they are inserted in the labor market, it is women, especially black women, who are most affected.

Consonant with the advance of neoliberal globalization, these measures significantly deepened the dismantling of public services, promoting new impulses to make work more flexible, largely facilitated by advances in the field of digital technologies and artificial intelligence.

In this way, the measures adopted in the pandemic context accentuated the precariousness of pre-existing living and working conditions, paving the way for new forms of precariousness. A comparative study between indicators for the third quarters of 2019 and 2021, carried out by the Inter-Union Department of Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies (DIEESE, 2022b), based on data released by Pnad-C/IBGE, demonstrates how the context of the pandemic, linked to the measures previous years, of making work more flexible, had a particular impact on the female workforce.

In addition to the retraction of female workforce participation in the labor market, which fluctuated from 54,6% in 2019 to 52,3% in 2021, there was an increase in unemployment and unemployment due to discouragement among women. In the case of unemployment, the rate that in 2019, from 14,3%, reached 15,9%, in 2021, while, for the male segment, it remained stable: 10% (2019) and 10,1 .2021% (XNUMX).

It is worth noting that among women, considering only 2021, the difference in the unemployment indicator between black women (18,9%) and white women (12,5%) is noteworthy. In the group of women, DIEESE (2022b) highlights, the rate of underutilization of the workforce in the 3rd quarter of 2021 was 33,3%, compared to the 20,9% observed among men.

The pandemic context also spurred a significant displacement of paid work activities previously carried out outside the home towards the domestic environment. It is known that the home space, in addition to unpaid female domestic work, historically houses a set of paid activities that, not by chance, are also socially associated with women and, in particular, with black women.

What draws attention, however, are the new articulations provided by capitalism in its neoliberal phase. On the one hand, the incorporation of new unpaid activities, especially those of care, which are no longer offered by the State. On the other hand, the increase in various remunerated activities, driven by unemployment, which ranges from the promotion of the production and sale of various products to other types of work carried out based on access to electronic equipment and the use of the internet.

In June 2020, according to research published by IPEA, 8,7 million (12,7%) of Brazilians with some occupation carried out their work activities remotely, from their homes. The research, developed by Góes et. al. (2020), found that of this total, 84,1% had a formal employment relationship. With a predominant presence of women (55,5%), the group was also characterized by high schooling, with 73,3% of its members having completed higher education or postgraduate studies. There are several studies that point to the accentuated workload of women who, by carrying out their paid work activities at home, have extended their dedication time and intensified their work processes.

In this sense, the holders of the means of production, by transferring salaried work to the sphere of reproduction, through the home-office, further intensified the structural inequality of gender, race and ethnicity. One of the consequences of this new reality was to explain how unfavorable the socio-sexual division of labor is for women, being, to a large extent, more intense for black women.

That is, domestic seclusion to protect themselves from the pandemic and continue to carry out their salaried work, in most cases, rescued the social and historical role given to women as caregivers and responsible for raising children, for organizing and carrying out household chores. This situation forced her to carry out exhausting work days, both productive and reproductive, intensifying her precariousness through the exploitation/oppression of her workforce.

Another important consequence of this domestic isolation was the increase in violence between genders. This measure, which aimed to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, has alarmingly increased cases of abuse, aggression, threats and femicide, bringing an even more complex situation for women victims of domestic violence, who already had a series of resistance to denouncing their aggressor. , since the trend towards home office work has spread to salaried men. This, in turn, also maintained a greater presence in the domestic sphere, being able, therefore, to control the woman more intensely.

 

The fight against the precariousness of women's work is also anti-capitalist

In view of the situations listed here, the current economic crisis we are going through has had the effect of reinvigorating little expressive questions between the 1990s and 2000s. critiques of neoliberalism, anti-capitalist movements, Marxist feminisms, as well as anti-racist movements in dialogue with the critique of the capitalist mode of production.

The reason for such radicalism within social movements has its raison d'être. The expansion of unemployment on a global scale, the high rate of informal work in countries at the center and periphery of capitalism, the various expressions of the advance of precarious work and the expansion of poverty converge to the root of these problems, that is, the way of capitalist production. Thus, elucidating the way we organize work, as well as the articulation between production and social reproduction are key issues to understand this myriad of forms of work presently.

We will start here from Karl Marx's understanding and his analysis of the work category as a founding element of human sociability. As a condition of existence for all human beings and social formations, in his words, work is the “eternal natural need to mediate the metabolism between man and nature” (2013 [1867] p. 120). Through work, human beings will always orientate themselves and set themselves in motion, interacting with external nature, transforming it and transforming themselves. As a “model of all social praxis” (Lukács. 2013), therefore, the category of work has a privileged status of analysis and for this reason it is methodologically advantageous for us to start from its investigation in order to unveil important traits of the social being (idem, ibidem).

If the process of production and reproduction of all human lives has the category of work as a central element, however, the social place in which each human being occupies in the organization of work differs substantially. We occupy different social places and interact with external nature in a concrete and, therefore, embodied way. This means that as a social class there is an element that unites us, while this same class has sexualities, races, genders and other differences that determine the course of our lives in different ways.

Under capitalism, however, these distinct ways of relating to the outside world are transformed into social inequalities. Therefore, it is necessary to problematize how the working class is differentially produced. In this regard, Marx's analysis, in The capital, about the differences between the English worker and the Irish worker is well known for revealing different levels of social reproduction in which these two nationalities found themselves in the XNUMXth century.

Therefore, far from a trend towards the exploitation of homogenizing work, our understanding is that the “categories of gender and race, as identities, are social constructions necessary for capital and, for this very reason, had their gestation, as a social structure, passi passu to the genesis and development of capitalism” (Roncato, 2020, p. 27).

It is due to these productions of differences that the amount of the basic food basket necessary for people's reproduction is presented unevenly. Here, we advocate a materialist analysis of oppression and, therefore, notions that refer to the socio-sexual division of labor, as well as the focus on the articulation between production and social reproduction are key categories of analysis of women's work.

We understand the unequal socio-sexual division of labor as a product of capitalism and which presupposes the principles of separation and hierarchization. Widely researched by feminist theorists, such assumptions are subject to observations in different societies and historical periods, even if they are not principles and ontological categories of the social being.

According to Danièle Kergoat, the first instrumentalization of the sexual division of labor was carried out by anthropologists and had Lévi-Strauss as one of its pioneers, making this notion a mechanism to classify and describe the structure of societies around the family. However, it was feminist anthropologists who gave it a new meaning for the first time, indicating not only a complementarity of tasks, but also its sense of a social relationship of power between women and men (Mathieu, 1991; Tabet, apud Kergoat, 2009). These assumptions start from the idea that there are jobs that are “for women” as opposed to jobs considered “for men” (idem, ibidem). Furthermore, women's work will always be worth (quantially and qualitatively) less compared to men's (idem, ibidem).

In addition to the socio-sexual division of labor, understanding work and gender involves analyzing the existing link between production and social reproduction. Social reproduction here refers to the generational, physical reproduction, both material and subjective, of the workforce, that is, the production of working-class life as a class (Arruzza and Bhattacharya, 2020), whether in salaried or unpaid form, as well as the hierarchical reproduction and domination of the patriarchal family and capitalist logic.

Therefore, it is important to emphasize that overcoming the current situation of political, economic and environmental crisis, social inequality, contemplating issues of gender, race, LGBTQIA+ and class, and the precariousness of work, requires a long struggle, but which we believe to be likely to win. For this, it is necessary to confront and overcome the capitalist mode of production and conquer another society. A society in which social rights, including unexploited work, the right to housing, health and education are free and universal and, consequently, allow us the right to life, but a life without oppression, dignified and endowed with meaning!

*Claudia Mazzei Nogueira is a professor of the Social Service course at UNIFESP.

* Luci Praun Professor of Social Sciences at the Federal University of Acre.

*Mariana Shinohara Roncato holds a PhD in sociology from Unicamp.

Originally published on the Argentine website CounterhegemonyWeb.

 

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