Power in the political economy of Zé do Depósito

Image: Public Domain


The real Brazil and the official Brazil, according to the people

“Brazilian underdevelopment is not a destiny. It is a disease. In fact, it has a cure.” (Attributed to Darcy Ribeiro)

Another nauseous day in São Paulo. The sky was overcast in the morning, moisture trickled down people's faces and the heat was suffocating at noon. In the center of the city, men and women were in a hurry, sweating with their heads down, trying not to see the real Brazil, full of beggars, “sign-men”, vendors at signs and queues where there was an advertisement “Wanted”. The anguished lives, fearing for jobs, health, the future, violence, children were not visible from afar, from the top of the buildings. It was evident, violent, concrete, however, in the conversations and in the eyes I heard and saw, while waiting for photocopies at a newsstand.

Then I remembered my friend Zé do Depósito. I hadn't seen him for some time. I was trying to imagine what he would say now, when the minister failed to fulfill another promise of more jobs and economic growth. But I didn't have to imagine very long. I saw Zé, without his uniform, leaving the union building. I ran towards him, happy to have found him. But this time, his face was less friendly. It mixed anger and silence. The same silence that assaults those who are afraid. When I extended my hand to him, there was no enthusiasm in his greeting or in his eyes. I asked why he was discouraged and Zé replied in an aged voice that I didn't know: “I was fired, Mr. Marcio. The boss sent several employees away. He said it was because of the crisis and he was going to use machines instead of people.”

It was the first time I saw sadness in my friend's eyes, so I invited him to lunch. I already warned: “Zé, today, I pay.” Embarrassed, he accepted and began to vent. As he spoke, Zé, now without a deposit, seemed to be trying to understand why the real Brazil was so different from official Brazil, full of promises, optimistic newspapers and the Olympics. In front of us, the two Brazils were not equal, not even cousins. Only the city's mercantile turmoil barely disguised the growing poverty. In fact, Zé do Depósito already knew the answer: poverty, growing inequality and the subjection of the poor to the orders of the richest. I knew because it was he who, in our last conversation, made me understand the meaning of underdevelopment from the point of view of the person who suffers from it.[I].

“Seu Marcio, not a day goes by without a friend losing his job. My daughter-in-law's parents, for example, are going to get basic food baskets at the church because the restaurant where they both work has closed. Now, what appears, they take. Any service. You have to accept it and still be happy.” Zé's words, however, seemed to speak of himself.

Nervous, he pointed to a newspaper hanging on the newsstand: “and now there's a war tank in the street? For what? Tell me, what for? To generate employment that was not. It wasn't to defend our worker rights. I read in the union's newspaper that, that same day, the deputies approved a two-year work contract, without a formal contract, for people up to 29 years old and the salary - do you know how much, Seu Marcio? -from BRL 550! I am not kidding. You read, you know. It is serious. Imagine, then, if my son who lost his job and now works as a delivery person for these applications, he will leave! Goes to where? Where is a boy who studied in a school on the periphery and only finished high school going to find a good job? He will be a delivery man for the rest of his life.”

My friend sighed in dismay and continued: “And there is a congresswoman, there, who wants to put a worker with a formal contract against a worker without a formal contract[ii].Do you know what solution the guys came up with? It wasn't giving the right to those who don't have it[iii]. The choice of this group was to take away rights from those who won through organization, being beaten by the police… They and the bosses only think about lowering the salary. They say it's to compete with Asia. But which Asia? Only if it's the one where the building falls on the worker's head. My son says they want to divide and conquer and I think he's right. They do everything to divide us all the time.”

Zé stopped to think, while we sat at the counter of the same bakery as before. He thought and started again more calmly: “For us, Mr. Marcio, that's all there is to talk about entrepreneurship. Have you ever seen a worker with little money, without education, without training, without rich friends, thriving in the crisis?! On me?! Those who tried either went bankrupt or worked hard to have a lower income than before unemployment and, worse, no security at all. There are very few who can be proud of having won alone. TV encourages this nonsense, this individualism, this way of looking at the world as if it were each one against all. That's what boss likes. Worker alone is weak. You only have a chance united and organized. This is the only way to disrupt the endless greed of business owners. And what's in the way? Because it's fun? This is talk of rich people or managers who suck up to the boss. It gets in the way of fighting for a bigger piece of the fruit of labor. Only then can we move forward. It was like that when I was a printer and we had a strong union.”

“Today, Seu Marcio,” – he continued - “nobody remembers the ABC unions anymore, fighting for democracy, for better wages, for fair working hours… They taught the younger ones at school, in advertising, in movies, in everything, that they have to fight their peers to win. That by working hard and saying amen to the boss, you'll move up in the company, and most believed. Today, they are all there, without hope because they don't know the strength they have together. On the outskirts, Seu Marcio, there are people who try to warn, teach... But it's difficult. Those who have money buy all means to convince that the interest of the rich is the interest of the worker and that is a lie.”

Now, the eyes of Zé do Depósito were no longer calm. He was silent, scratched his head, and I waited for him to start again. First, he cursed what he sees on TV and hears on the radio because, according to him, they give the impression of hearing his former boss speak. For Zé, “the comrades talk about commitment, contract, law, but all this honesty – he laughed at the adjective – is to satisfy the rich. Don't look startled, no, Seu Marcio! That's it, yes. Their contracts must be fulfilled and upheld. But what about those that interest the poor and workers? Want to see? Think with me. The law says that the people have the right to health, education, decent housing and the cambau and what happens? Is it fulfilled? Anything! They say that to fulfill these obligations money is needed, it is in the budget and what we pay in taxes is not enough, it is not enough. But to pay bank and multinational never lack money! They always find a way. What I'm saying, Seu Marcio, is that power protects the powerful. Power is to defend those who are already rich. You know that phrase: to friends everything, to enemies the law? Yes, they are friends and understand each other to share the cake, but we, the workers, who make the cake, look like enemies. It is an ungrateful country, Seu Marcio.”

I looked into my friend's eyes and saw the anger reignite and his gestures grow larger, as if they wanted to hit something or someone. His words, now, carried the anger of those who believe they have been wronged. Zé's speech then took on the atmosphere of a rally and he began to speak loudly for everyone around us to hear: “I went to rescind my employment contract there, at the union, and the subject of conversations was about a bank that sent for customers a report saying that it was worth thinking about a coup if Lula won the election, on 22[iv]. I got scared. Can they do it? What if my association there, from the periphery, or my union say that against the candidates of the rich? What happens? Who is the law for? Is it just for the police to bring down the workers’ strike and the favela kids?”

Submission. That was what Zé do Depósito was talking about. The word made his mouth bitter and it was clear that, for my friend, Brazil was not democratic. Power was concentrated in the hands of a few, almost all of them very rich, and this elite did not mind exerting its strength to maintain the status quo. status quo, even if it meant suffering for the majority of the population. The way in which this power manifested itself could be violent, as Zé saw police actions in the favelas and in strikes; threatening, when, for example, unemployment makes the worker accept any work condition, including disrespect and a lot of exploitation; or disguised, when the media and the Internet they are paid to disseminate values ​​and behaviors considered appropriate to the order and its interested parties. And evidently, except for interstices, the poorest and most working people have little influence over any of them.

My friend's words, much more than the books, had the force of cannon: within Brazilian inequality, there is no democracy possible because the majority is not free from the constraints of poverty and need and, thus, in fact, they are not full citizens. So the word that remains is submission. Once again, in the world that Zé do Depósito presented to me, the people submit because they have no alternative and, very importantly, because every effort is made so that they continue to have no other hope than to dream.

At that moment the plate arrived. A “PF”[v] scent that silenced Zé for a minute. I knew he had more to say. So I shut up, waiting. This time, however, my friend spoke slowly, wanting to think about what he was saying. Zé do Depósito now examined who is in charge and who obeys in Brazil, explaining why, according to him, little changes year after year. What he said involved the future and our hopes, giving the talk a rebellious and provocative turn, which I will tell you about shortly.

*Marcio Ka'aysá is the pseudonym of a Brazilian economist, “without important relatives and coming from the countryside”.


[I] The chronicle, featuring Zé do Depósito, was published on June 30, 2021, on the website https://aterraeredonda.com.br/a-economia-politica-de-ze-do-deposito/?doing_wp_cron=1629119618.4968070983886718750000 .

[ii]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNJxiA9jXkM .

[iii]https://economia.uol.com.br/noticias/redacao/2021/08/10/minireforma-trabalhista-priore-requip.htm .

[iv]https://revistaforum.com.br/politica/economista-do-santander-defende-golpe-para-evitar-retorno-de-lula/ .

[v] Dish-made well served.

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