The movement of couriers

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By ANDRÉIA GALVÃO*

The defense of labor rights does not exclude the inclusion of other dimensions in the struggle, nor does it prevent the exercise of political imagination to seek more comprehensive and socially transformative alternatives.

The delivery workers' strike on July 1st was received with enthusiasm by unions, researchers, parties and left-wing militants, who saw in this mobilization the reinvention of a "sense of collectivity".[I] and the emergence of “a new paradigm of struggle”[ii]. There is no doubt that the strike constitutes a historic milestone for the organization of precarious workers and emerges as the main progressive demand movement in the year 2020. Accumulating defeats since, at least, the impeachment of Dilma, suffering the damage caused by the reform labor, by expanding the possibilities of outsourcing and by pension reform, social movements - unionism included here - seem to bet on the possibility of this strike changing the trajectory of workers' struggles, overcoming the defensive situation of the last five years and barring the successive threats of further loss of rights. In this way, the strike could represent, for the Bolsonaro government, what the ABC strikes represented for the constitution of the new unionism and for the crisis of the military dictatorship, catalyzing discontent of various orders and stimulating the formation of a broad democratic front.

Certainly, the strike is a victory, as it demonstrates that precarious workers are not unorganized and exposes, to society as a whole, the process of accelerated deterioration of working conditions caused by the perverse combination between neoliberal logic and the adoption of a new business model that, with the help of technology, is designed to promote the fraud of rights in favor of capital[iii]. It was also successful in arousing the solidarity and indignation of consumers, in the face of the inhumane treatment given to those who guarantee the necessary conditions for the social isolation of those who can remain in quarantine. Interpellated by workers, the press and surveys that point to the predatory nature of their actions, digital platforms are beginning to have to provide clarification on their way of operating and see their brand associated with the cruelest forms of labor exploitation.

The strike is an encouragement, a kind of redemption, for other categories of workers, both for those historically subjected to different forms of precarious work and for those who still have the protection of legislation, who begin to perceive the reality of couriers as a projection of what may happen to them in the not too distant future. Finally, the strike brings a breath of hope to a weakened trade union movement, treated as an enemy by a government that aims to destroy it, and seen with indifference, distrust or even revulsion by workers who do not feel represented by it. Disbelief in unions is motivated by several factors, among which we can highlight the growth in the number of workers who do not have formal employment contracts and who are outside the scope of action of unions[iv], as well as the effects of neoliberal ideology, which shapes subjectivities according to an individualizing and meritocratic perspective, making each and every one responsible for their success or failure[v].

Thus, the movement positively impacts the political-ideological debate, placing work at the center of the board and shedding light on the need for urgent and necessary changes in the working conditions of a category discovered as essential. The interventions of its leaders have contributed to unravel the various fallacies propagated by free market defenders, demystifying the discourse of entrepreneurship, autonomy and modernization. The importance and hopes placed on the movement, however, cannot hide the challenges and obstacles that permeate its path.

A heterogeneous movement

The agenda of the protesters comprises different demands and positions[vi]. The visibility achieved by the strike, the support obtained in society and the willingness of the category to continue the fight - since a new strike is scheduled for July 25[vii] - indicate the likelihood that some claims will be met. But there are several possible developments, depending on how these demands are forwarded. The aspiration for better working conditions is not to be confused with the defense of rights or state protection. There is an ongoing political dispute and one of the issues involved is precisely what should be the role of the State in this process.

Based on this issue, I would like to discuss some alternatives that are visible on the immediate horizon.

The first rejects state intervention and operates according to the logic of private insurance. Although couriers repeatedly claim that they are not heard by the applications and that, therefore, there is no negotiation with companies[viii], these could promote some strictly economic improvements, increasing the price of rides, offering some kind of insurance or monetary aid (such as food stamps). This alternative, which is economically less expensive for companies, at the same time involves a risk, as it makes explicit the existence of the employment relationship that they seek at all costs to hide.

The second alternative is the creation of a specific right for the category. Assuming that the existing legislation does not apply to “service providers”, self-employed and informal workers, some segments consider it necessary to introduce a differentiated regulation. It is a kind of second-class right, a lowered protection, since it does not guarantee all the benefits guaranteed by the CLT. It seems that this solution is emerging as the most likely, judging by the dialogue initiated with the Legislative and the bills presented in the Chamber of Deputies[ix], as well as the position that seems to prevail among the couriers themselves[X].

These two alternatives make it possible to reconcile the workers' demands with the neoliberal perspective and with government proposals, such as the green and yellow work permit and other measures suggested by the Bolsonaro-Guedes duo, who systematically claim that there are too many rights and that it is necessary to bring the existing legislation of conditions dictated by informality, presenting a false dichotomy between employment and rights. They also do not necessarily break with the discourse of entrepreneurship, which has penetrated different segments of society.[xi] and is present in the category, even though a portion of couriers expressly reject it[xii]. Perhaps it is prudent to remember that going on strike and demanding better working conditions does not mean criticizing or opposing the government, nor rejecting capitalist social relations.

On the other hand, here we have a watershed to test the social support obtained by the movement. Not all those who are generally in favor of rights are in favor of public regulation and not all those in favor of legislation understand that it should be the same for everyone. Those who are sensitive to hunger, misery, and conditions considered inhumane, do not necessarily support the creation of rights or reject the privatist perspective that underpins the “save yourself who can” society. If consumers are seduced by the idea that well-being can be bought on the market, at the price that each one is able to pay, they can perfectly guide their action by the logic of assistance, philanthropy, limiting themselves to repaying the service provided, when well evaluated, through a tip. After all, who needs the State and the union?

The third alternative is to fight for the recognition of the employment relationship and for the adoption of the CLT as a way of regulating their employment relationship, with the right to vacation, 13th, sick leave, FGTS, retirement. This means recognizing that couriers live in a disguised wage relationship and that they are entitled to the same form of protection as other workers. This is about fighting for the application of existing law, a right that has already been largely deconstructed by the labor reform of 2017. Although it may be seen, by some, as a nostalgic strategy, a sign of resistance to change and attachment to a past that has already been overcome, it is a socially fairer and politically more promising alternative than the previous ones, as it preserves the universality of the right and unifies workers. The defense of the same level of rights for all makes it possible for different categories of workers to come together, paving the way for overcoming the corporate character of economic struggles and for reconstituting a sense of class. After all, the uncertainties and vulnerabilities faced by manual and poorly educated workers are also imposing themselves among the qualified and middle-class segments, once called “intellectual” workers, who are stripped of their rights as they are also engulfed by the “uberization” process. ”.

A struggle that can intertwine with other

The defense of labor rights does not exclude the inclusion of other dimensions in the struggle, nor does it prevent the exercise of political imagination to seek more comprehensive and socially transformative alternatives. The creation of cooperatives, rescuing the perspective of the solidarity economy, aims at building more collaborative work relationships and self-management, eliminating the power of companies over the work process of cooperative members[xiii]. This is an experience that has gained strength in Europe, but which is still not very present in the Brazilian scenario.

In any case, attempts are also being made here to go beyond the material plane. By denouncing that precarious work has a racial aspect, the delivery men make explicit the connection between the struggle for labor rights and anti-racism, allowing the articulation of the fight against different oppressions and the interweaving of different movements. The rapprochement between organizations that have work as their axis and social movements constituted around other issues and identities, such as the black movement and collectives from the periphery, broadens the social base of the courier movement and the agendas under discussion, stimulating its politicization.

Finally, the emergence of an anti-fascist movement and the inclusion of democracy in the agenda of a portion of couriers opens a politically potent path, as it expresses the recognition that, without democratic freedoms, there are no rights.

Although the alliance with other social movements and the anti-fascism banner are still a minority within the movement, they go through the identification of the attacks launched by the government on the set of social rights, not only on labor rights, linking issues of gender, race, class, sexuality and environmental issues. These two alternatives make it possible to take on Fora Bolsonaro and intervene in the construction of the democratic front, placing the defense of citizenship rights at the forefront. It is a position with tremendous political implications for a left that lacks unity and leadership.

We are, therefore, facing a heterogeneous movement, which includes many potentialities and contradictions. There is no meaning given, previously established, to a movement in the process of constitution[xiv]. Not all paths lead us to the same level in terms of conquests and accumulation of strength. Let's continue the dispute to help consolidate and amplify the scope of the movement and its struggles.

*Andreia Galvao is a professor at the Department of Political Science at Unicamp.

I would like to thank my colleagues Armando Boito, José Dari Krein and Paula Marcelino for their encouragement and suggestions for the publication of this article.

Notes


[I] Luci Praun, Breque dos Apps: the occupation of the streets reinvents the sense of collectivity. Available in:

http://www.esquerdadiario.com.br/Breque-dos-Apps-a-ocupacao-das-ruas-reinventa-o-sentido-de-coletividade

[ii] See https://radiopeaobrasil.com.br/em-meio-a-pandemia-e-com-alto-desemprego-entregadores-de-aplicativos-fazem-greve-historica/

[iii] Ana Cláudia Cardoso and Paula Freitas de Almeida, The “Breque dos Apps” against the false discourse of autonomy and flexibility on the part of platforms. Available in: https://revistaescuta.wordpress.com/2020/07/04/o-breque-dos-apps-contra-o-falso-discurso-de-autonomia-e-flexibilidade-por-parte-das-plataformas/

 

[iv] As is the case with couriers, most of whom are organized into associations or collectives via social networks, despite the existence of unions that, in some cities, seek to represent not only CLT operators, but also informal motorcycle couriers.

[v] For capitalism, even in crisis, seeks to expand and ideologies continue to play a fundamental role in its reproduction.

[vi] Cf. Andréia Galvão, The strike, the brake and the job: the struggle of couriers is the struggle of workers. Available in: http://www.esquerdadiario.com.br/A-greve-o-breque-o-trampo-a-luta-do-entregadores-e-a-luta-dos-trabalhadores

[vii] Sindimoto SP, however, scheduled the strike for the 14th, which demonstrates the division between unions and associations mentioned above. 

[viii] The intermediation of Justice may change this. The TRT of the 2nd region scheduled a conciliation hearing between Sindimoto SP and the application companies for July 14th.

[ix] See https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/mercado/2020/07/maia-diz-a-entregadores-que-pautara-projeto-com-pedidos-da-categoria.shtml?utm_source=whatsapp&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=compwa%3Floggedpaywall&origin=folha

[X] This is a hypothesis formulated based on statements by strike leaders to the press and the participation of some of them in debates, and which needs to be tested in surveys with the category.

[xi] A Datafolha survey from September 2018 reveals that “half of voters said they preferred to be self-employed, with higher wages and paying less taxes, even without work benefits, against 43% who preferred to have their work card registered, with all the rights provided for in the law". Adherence to this thesis is higher among unregistered wage earners, the self-employed and self-employed (between 59% and 73% of respondents), but it is also sustained, at levels above 40%, in protected sectors, such as registered wage earners, employees public and retired people (who, therefore, seem to agree to give up their rights) and also among the unemployed. Cf. https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/mercado/2018/09/metade-dos-eleitores-prefere-ser-autonomo-a-ter-emprego-clt-diz-datafolha.shtml. The database is available at Unicamp's Center for Public Opinion Studies and can be consulted at:https://www.cesop.unicamp.br/por/banco_de_dados

[xii] See https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/mercado/2020/07/acreditaram-na-mentira-do-empreendedorismo-diz-lider-do-entregadores-antifascistas.shtml

[xiii] Shyam Krishna, Network of cooperatives challenges Platform Capitalism. Available in:

https://outraspalavras.net/movimentoserebeldias/a-surpreendente-aparicao-dos-entregadores-livres/

[xiv] See also: Renata Dutra and Ricardo Festi, The couriers' strike. Available in: https://jornalggn.com.br/artigos/a-greve-dos-entregadores-por-renata-dutra-e-ricardo-festi/

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