PL of applications

Image: Pedro Cordero


The PL created and proposed by the Lula government to regulate the work of app drivers is a complete defeat. The expansion of Uberized work will lead us to digital slavery

Application Workers

The first important indication is that, according to IBGE, there are 600 thousand workers, who comprised this contingent of applications, which already demonstrates that it is not something small. And I have a clear intuition that this number is growing every day, rapidly, and that, certainly, this number is already much higher than in this first investigation.

IBGE's first empirical foray was very good and showed that app workers work many more hours than the average of workers regulated by the CLT and also shows that their salaries are lower.

What these numbers indicate, therefore, about the reality of work in Brazil is that we have, today, a lethal combination characterized by the presence of a predatory bourgeoisie. The Brazilian bourgeoisie, together with the global capitals that operate here, are predators, because they follow the logic of financial capital.

This business action, driven by the most destructive of all capitals – “financial capital” – indicates that the reality of work in Brazil, depending on the interests of capital, is always one of more predation, more exploitation, more spoliation and more expropriation, in the midst of an era of rapid expansion of the informational, digital world, artificial intelligence, industry 4.0, etc.

It is a vivid picture that, in the South of the world, but also in the most precarious pockets of the North, capital can only advance by greatly increasing technology, in order to push the exploitation, spoliation and expropriation of the working class to the limit.

The proposal to regulate the work of app drivers

The PL created and proposed by the Lula government to regulate the work of app drivers is a complete defeat, if it is approved. Why? Because your (apparent) positive points are a patch to try to fix the crucial error.

First, article three of the project: what these platforms, from Uber, Amazon, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Glovo, Deliveroo, 99, Cabify, all of them, as well as other forms of work Airbnb, Google, Facebook, Meta etc., What do they have in common? They use unregulated work. In other words, they operate basically by destroying labor rights, not recognizing the wage-earning rights of this working class. They do this based on a very well-designed and sophisticated ideological hoax, typical of a predatory bourgeoisie of the financial and digital era.

There is an immense mass of unemployed workers, desperately looking for any job – that is why these platforms enter more strongly on the periphery of the world, in the South of the world, and in the countries of the North they advance much more in the devastatingly neoliberal countries; because where there is a more structured form of labor rights, they have difficulties.

They can achieve this construction because there is, first, an unemployed workforce in abundance, on a global scale, and which is much more extensive in the South of the world.

Second, in a context of high technology, which has not stopped developing since the 1970s, initially the world of automation and the digital informational world invaded industrial production and, from then on, at the turn of the century, they invaded what I prefer to call as the services industry.

Attention! We do not live in a post-industrial society, as mistaken Eurocentric intellectuals said, we live in the era of the monumental expansion of the service industry.

Now, capital managed to simultaneously have surplus labor forces, desperately in search of work and widely expanding high technology. It was necessary to give Frankenstein scam, “taking the leap”, and what is this leap? The questions that these big businessmen asked, originally, were: how to circumvent labor protection legislation. They consulted these large corporate law firms and concluded that, in order to circumvent and deny labor rights, it was necessary to create a strange, hybrid category, which they defined as “self-employed” and “self-employed” and “entrepreneurs” and “entrepreneurs”. It was a hoax, from the beginning!

It is a hoax because what we are witnessing is a marked proletarianization of these workers. All academic research (not those financed by the platforms) shows that they often work, on the outskirts of the world, eight, ten, 12 and 14 hours - I even interviewed a worker who worked 20 hours in one day and another who told me that he had a 30-day shift in a month, and I asked “what day do you rest?” and he said “I don’t rest a day.”

This is super-exploitation of work, which needs to have a “discreet charm” from the predatory bourgeoisie: they have become “entrepreneurs”, “self-employed” and, therefore, have no labor rights. And, even more so, workers must buy or rent a car, motorbike, bicycle – and everything else that is a work instrument – ​​buy a cell phone, have an internet connection, buy a bag, in the case of delivery people and taking care of their vehicles, etc. It is a process that ultimately returns to the conditions prevailing in the era of primitive accumulation, because capital does not even provide labor tools. And that is how this vilification of work was forged.

We can call this project PL for the Labor Disaster in Brazil, a project that “opens the gate” – remember that expression? – of the devastation of Brazil. The current president, who rightly criticized Michel Temer's labor counter-reform, is creating a similar monster, initially for app drivers, but which has the potential to expand to the working class who work in services, as we are already seeing in so many activities, such as journalists, care workers, domestic workers, teachers, doctors, nurses, etc.

This is because this PL, in its third article, legally defines workers as self-employed. Now, doing this is what Uber, IFood, Rappi, Glovo, 99, Lyft and Deliveroo want (or demand), all these companies that circulate around the world and that are, many of them, very powerful. Just mention the case of Uber, on the one hand, with all its ramifications – Uber Eats, Uber Works, Uber Health and also Amazon, including Amazon Mechanical Turk, etc.

So, what are the advances of the text? In a nutshell: he gives the diamonds and gold to the big digital platforms and throws crumbs to the workers. And when they go to eat these crumbs, they realize they are spoiled. Social security, which is crucial; trade union organization is a right of workers and is indelibly linked to the recognition of their wage-earning status. If this is not the case, it is a scam, like PL 12.

That is why what is apparently positive falls apart, becomes a deception, as it will always be only half enjoyed, at most. Who guarantees that the uberized worker will actually be able to pay his share of the pension? And what is the real scam, the appearance of autonomy, as well as the idea that platforms are technology companies, gains legal status. The basic question is: when we call 99 or Uber, are we looking for private transportation or do we want to learn technology? The answer, any child knows. It is obvious that these are people transport companies and are not technology providers. And PL 12, if approved, would then legalize the illegal. That's why it has to be rejected or removed from the parliamentary agenda. Because if it stays there, it will get worse. This is the mess created by the government.

The construction of the text

There was no collective construction. A discussion began, which did not accept free participation from the heterogeneous and polymorphous group that characterizes the category of application workers. And, in addition to not recognizing this heterogeneity in its entirety, the government already had a proposal in hand, that of the platforms, which did not accept negotiating the crucial point: the recognition of subordination, of real wages, including labor rights. This is the crucial point: the platforms do not give up on the scam, they do not accept and do not recognize the condition of salaried employees.

I learned that sectors of the Public Ministry of Labor left the PL negotiations, and that representatives of the delivery drivers also left or were no longer called into negotiations, as they refused to legitimize the scam. The result is that the PL is making waves on all sides, as we are seeing, because the refusal to this project is very large, in several sectors, for conflicting reasons, but it is a large refusal. On balance, then, the government, in essence, sided with the big platforms, which will continue to fail to comply with and circumvent labor rights; not pay taxes; define themselves as “technology providers”, etc. And so they are, today, among the largest global corporations.

The creation of a platform workers union

The creation of a union arises from the working class's own history of struggle. This is how in England, in the 1824th century, the first struggles led to the creation of unions that were legally consolidated from XNUMX onwards. So, this creation results from the organization and self-organization of the working class. A deliverymen's union here or a drivers' union there, as this PL treats – which, I repeat, the deliverymen had the courage, conscience and lucidity to refuse – proposes and encourages the creation, from above, of unions.

It is not up to the government, “from above”, to create unions. Those who will create are the workers. There is a very strong rejection of unions by large sectors of the category, because neoliberal ideology has taught, since the middle of the last century, that the union is the enemy of the working class and that, therefore, the union only gets in the way. Many of the younger workers today are imbued with this anti-union conception, but they realize in the struggle that individually they are nothing; collectively they have strength. To have a collective structure – and Breque dos APPs showed this – it is necessary to have forms of organization.

In this process, for example, the National Alliance of App Delivery Workers – ANEA was born, which is a very important example of the creation of an embryo of an entity representing delivery app workers.

In 2019, there were discussions, which reached an international meeting in England, of Uber workers, Uber drivers, which discussed the creation of an international union. I repeat: it will not be through a government decree, but through the awareness, organization and self-organization of the working class. Through a movement, not by decree.

The absence of rights provided for in article 7 of the Constitution

Not having holidays, 13th salary, weekly rest, regulated working hours and guarantee fund shows that this project is regressive, a project that returns – if we let it continue – to XNUMXth century levels of labor exploitation. It is no coincidence that “cute” words, such as crowdsourcing embed their origin. O outsourcing, for example, was a 19th century work system in England, where the working class worked at home, outside the factory space, under abject conditions and without any rights. It's a scam and that's what this PL means. It must therefore be withdrawn or rejected. And this is a fight that directly concerns the entire working class.

This is the creation of a third category, because it opens up to the “law of the jungle”. Starting tomorrow, all branches and sectors, not just the platforms, will begin to demand the Federal Supreme Court – STF, which is neoliberal when it comes to labor issues. The same Supreme Court that had the courage to take an anti-fascist stance is absurdly neoliberal, which is not a contradiction – we know, those who study and know the topic we are discussing.

It is the creation of a third category without rights. Therefore, it is to give fullness to Michel Temer's 2017 counter-reform, which proposed intermittent work, which Lula criticized so much at the time. Today, what Lula is doing, as I said above, is legitimizing the illegal, which is not a legal phrase, but a sociological and critical phrase: they are legalizing what is unacceptable to be legalized, they are creating a third category that opens the door to dismantle the working class as a whole. Just imagine, in the next elections, if an aberration like Michel Temer returns, or an abject version of the braggart who goes to prison.

How to overcome this crossroads?

With struggle, organization, self-organization, collective debate, using WhatsApp to connect with colleagues, talking in those spaces during the hours when they wait for work that doesn't arrive.

For example: we have all entered a commercial store, the worker, who is in the store and will serve you, was being paid with or without a customer. Why don't drivers get paid if they are available and connected? Certainly, these questions arise in their daily lives, in their conversations, in their actions and struggles.

The company has algorithmic machinery and artificial intelligence, all these artifacts of the digital informational world, rigorously controlled by capital engineering, by nefarious CEOs, who modulate the forms of exploitation. We all know that this is to be played against the workers. The challenge is the struggles. I cite a real and living example: the Breque dos APPs, in July 2020, entered the history of the Brazilian working class as the first strike by app delivery workers. It will only be possible to overcome this crossroads through collective strength, organization, awareness and struggle. It's not something the working class is born knowing. And something that has been built in its history, since the Industrial Revolution in England.

The drivers of large platforms, such as Uber, Cabify and 99, until recently in Brazil, were former workers, teachers; I've already interviewed a veterinarian, a chemical engineer and even a small industry owner, because it was at a standstill during the pandemic and he went to work via Uber. He is an amalgam of subjectivities, of experiences, he is not just the former biker who had an already organized union tradition; It's an amalgam. There are young people, very young people, who connect with a platform, rent a motorcycle to do this work, they didn't drive before, they weren't bikers. There are students who rent bicycles to pay for their studies. Therefore, a union will not be born out of nowhere. An entity of this kind will be the result of a lot of experience, struggle, discussion and collective organization.

The minimum wage floor

Accounting for these hours worked shows, for example, that driver workers will have a lower salary than they had before. What explains why these drivers don't want CLT or a union is that many are imbued with the neoliberal miracle. It would be a miracle, after so many disasters, defeats of the working class, as we live in an era of bourgeois preventive counter-revolution (as Florestan Fernandes taught us), but today it is driven by financial capital. It would be a miracle if these workers thought differently. For example, if I'm unemployed and I buy a motorcycle (or a car) and go to a platform, I don't ask about my rights; I'm going because I need to pay for the vehicle I bought yesterday and I need to work to survive.

Regarding the minimum wage, the first harmful point is that it creates a system that tends to reduce the wages of workers who already work. This puts into question, indeed, workers receiving less than the minimum wage. Also on this point, the PL is against the working class.

It was necessary, imperative, and there is still time, to have effective regulation that guarantees labor and social security rights. It's a fundamental question. We all know that Lula was born and appeared on the social and political scene, in the mid-1970s, as a very important worker-metallurgy leader. It is not possible to imagine that the one who was, in the past, the most important worker and union leader in the history of the working class in the XNUMXth century in Brazil is not aware that this project serves companies. The delivery men, with lucidity, gave a contrary signal and I give another here.

Strength for the delivery drivers, because when this scam is imposed on them, they will have to refuse. Delivery drivers have shown more agility in fighting forms than drivers, for several reasons that there is no time to discuss here.

Flexible in the journey, but not flexible in rights

Therefore, the project is not what was possible, because this project is worse than that of Tabata Amaral and that senator, who really likes to support the autocratic and fascist government, which only narrowly missed out on the coup, as we are knowing now. This project is unacceptable, it is at this level and it is necessary and imperative to move towards the recognition of subordination, real wages and full recognition of labor rights, preserving the flexibility of working hours, which typifies this activity. But flexibility with rights!

Thinking about drivers and delivery people, when asked if they want CLT, the majority say no, if asked if they want a union, most say no. Now, if you ask them if they want paid weekly rest, they say yes. The same thing when asked if they would like to have a month's paid vacation, 13th salary and conditions to enjoy a pension in retirement, they say yes. That was what was possible to do.

The CLT already allows many categories to have flexible work hours, but not flexible rights. This monstrous Lula government maintains the complete precariousness of working conditions. Can the driver or delivery person work up to 12 hours? It's an accident, as the working day in Brazil is 44 hours, being 40 hours for several sectors. Having 12 hours or more is another unacceptable vilification.

Second point: the platform has the right to dismiss, suspend or block as long as it justifies it. But justify how? The government knows very well that in the world of algorithms, workers do not have a company manager to talk to, they do not have a physical space for contact. We are living in an algorithmic era, of artificial intelligence, and workers don't know how it works, who operates it and who programs it. Does anyone know of a program or algorithm from these companies that says “Drive slowly, follow all traffic rules, your delivery time will not count, whether or not you work the same hours a day you will receive the same salary”. No! It's gamification. That is, those who work hard and kill themselves go ahead; whoever doesn't do it like this, doesn't follow. Therefore, this project is nefarious. It is necessary to move further, with another project.

And here I bring another important point. If the bill goes to the House and Senate, it will be deepened and become even more devastating. If the government has the slightest historical awareness of the working class, it will withdraw this bill. What Lula called – he had his mind on something else, maybe Corinthians (I speak here as a Corinthian) – the “most important project” in the world or something like that, which involves companies/platforms and uberized workers is another hoax . It is worse than all the projects that have been created or are being discussed in Spain, England, Italy, Portugal, France, Germany and the European Union.

Last week, the European Union project, for example, recognized a crucial point: they are employees. This is the fundamental question.

The expansion of Uberized work will lead us to digital slavery

All of these workers are prisoners of an algorithmic machine, which they have no idea how it works, just as we don't either. Has anyone here ever seen an algorithm? Is it like a clock that can change the time? No. The algorithm is hell in the hands of CEOs, who are the predators.

Evidently, CEOs are a part of the ruling classes. It is not the owners, but the fundamental agents who maintain the hierarchy of control of labor under capital. In other words, it is capital overriding labor.

Digital slavery is a feature of our times. None of these drivers can work without having a goal, aiming to receive X amount at the end of the day. But, to reach the goal, he doesn't know how much he will receive. How much do companies discount? The algorithmic and digital world doesn't even show what drivers earned and how much was deducted from them.

Our book Drifting icebergs: work on digital platforms (Boitempo) with dense research and national and international researchers, as well as our previous, collective work, which gave rise to the book Uberization, digital work and industry 4.0 (Boitempo), both carried out in a Project with the Public Ministry of Campinas and region (MPT-15) show that this machinic, digital, informational and algorithmic command means that the worker does not even know how much he will receive. He will know the amount received when the final payment comes and he cannot ask why it is x and not y. This is because the most global command of society is that of financial capital, the most destructive of all. And digital and informational artifacts are designed, programmed and used to impose exploitation, expropriation and spoliation of work.

Exploitation is evident: working 12, 13 hours a day, if not more. Expropriation is the removal of all rights. And the spoliation is that, to enter these companies, they get into debt with the financial capital, to pay the installment of the motorcycle, car or bicycle, etc.

And the indebted workers will not discuss whether companies give them rights or not; They want to start working and get involved in the logic of gamification. It is possible to start working at 6 am, 8 am or 10 am, but that is the only “autonomy” they have, but they will work the hours necessary to achieve the goal. This is what I called “digital slavery”.

In 2018, in the book The privilege of servitude, when I coined the expression, we had a smaller number of platform workers, delivery drivers, domestic workers, teachers, doctors, journalists, lawyers, care workers, electricians, etc. Today we have a mass of workers who work through apps and who are prisoners of this digital slavery.

*Ricardo Antunes is a full professor of sociology at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Pandemic capitalism (boitempo).

Text established from an interview published on the website of Unisinos Humanitas Institute.

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