working women's lives

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Considerations based on selected excerpts from the column “No Batente”, by Mauricio Tragtenberg

“It's not a trickster's talk\ I've always been a trickster, but not now\ I enjoyed watching your tap dancing\ And I want to win your heart\ This friendship is growing in my chest\ I'm happy\ And I've already had a box built for us\ Already I found a door…” (Zé Keti, Trickster talk).

In the 1980s, for almost nine years, Maurício Tragtenberg (1929-1998) published a column with the name “No Batente”, in the extinct newspaper Popular News, from the group Folha de S.Paulo. In it, in the format of a weekly newspaper article, published in the popular press, it sought to debate and analyze the concrete social problems of life and work; as well as guiding an anti-capitalist militancy in the sense of showing workers the need for self-organization of struggles, starting from the workplace, since the authentic struggle of workers must be managed by them, as stated in the context of the First International (1864 ), which reads: The liberation of the workers must be the work of the workers themselves. The column was a channel in the struggle of workers against the conditions of exploitation of labor relations, the degradation of the standard of living and the framing of social struggles imposed by state violence, which governed the country in that period, which comprised 1964-1985.

"No Batente” draws on empirical evidence and the sociological realities of workers' daily lives, providing a detailed, sometimes cruel and touching account of their struggle for survival and their suffering. Its point of arrival was to establish a channel for discussion with workers about forms of self-organization of struggles, based on their working conditions. For this reason, it gave them a voice without being their spokesperson for confronting corporate power and work discipline. Maurício Tragtenberg's perspective is that for a society to be self-managed by workers it needs, first and foremost, to be preceded by the workers' own initiative in self-organizing, where conditions are then set in place to process collective and active struggles against the capitalist framework.

Gathered in the book Worker Autonomy, from 2011, which makes up the Maurício Tragtenberg Collection, edited by Unesp, the work is composed almost entirely of articles published in the column “No Batente” of the newspaper Popular News. The book is divided into ten parts: (i) No Batente; (ii) Worker autonomy; (iii) Military dictatorship, New Republic and workers; (iv) Workers' lives; (v) Rural men and women workers; (vi) Union dues and wages; (vii) Technology transfer and automation; (viii) Unemployment; (ix) Salary; and (x) Indians. And, for the purpose of this article, attention is drawn to some texts in Parts IV and V, respectively, Lives of Male and Female Workers, Male and Female Rural Workers.

In the confrontation, be it theoretical or practical, of political oppression and economic exploitation, of cultural and sexual prejudices, Maurício Tragtenberg did not escape the discussion about the economic and social spaces occupied by women, especially those linked to working conditions. According to the magazine The Economist, of March 8, 2021, citing a consultancy report McKinsey, “women make up 39% of the global workforce, but have been responsible for 54% of job losses since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic until last June. Though women in countries with more regulated labor markets fared better than in places like the United States. In Latin America, women were 44% more likely than men to lose their jobs in the first two months of the pandemic.”[I]

The issue of the sex of workers is one of the specificities explored by capitalists, notably among the universe of archaic, authoritarian bosses, who encourage sexist and racial prejudices, leaving women in even more unfavorable conditions in the workplace.[ii] Maurício Tragtenberg clearly indicated, especially in the classroom, that capitalism dominates, dividing the dominated, hence the analysis he proceeds with is on the economic and social plane.

This is evidenced in the beginning of the text “The woman worker”, originally published in Popular News, on May 12, 1982: “Being a woman is 'heavy duty', especially a working woman. According to the board of directors of the ABC Drivers' Union, chaired by Josias Adão, the bus collector who does not spend the night with a traffic inspector does not keep her job” (TRAGTENBERG, 2011, p. 198).

Further on, Maurício Tragtenberg (2011, pp. 198-9) reports: “Rosana Lopes, after working for a year at the new Bradesco central, got tuberculosis at the age of 19. She started out as a Bradesco-girl and moved to the overdraft section when she got sick. Gastroclínica, with which the bank has an agreement, gave only fifteen days for treatment. It was transferred from section to section, the certified check went to the protocol, the manager's intention was to place it in the extracts sector, in the basement, without ventilation. From the protocol, the manager fired her, she was unable to treat her tuberculosis. Sick, she got a job at another company, stayed there for three months and couldn't stand to work anymore. Due to respiratory failure, she was taken to the emergency room. When she entered the bank she was healthy, in her 20s she is thin and pale. Who will restore your health?”.

In the column on June 3, 1982, with the title “And the black worker, what is it like?” “No Batente” makes reference to the sociologist Lélia Gonzales (1935-1994), teacher, writer and social fighter of the black movement, to address the situation of the black female worker who, according to Tragtenberg (2011, p.200), “suffers triple discrimination : social, racial and sexual”. The mechanisms of racism, points out Maurício Tragtenberg, make black workers work more and earn less.

Current statistics confirm Maurício Tragtenberg's account. According to microdata from the Continuous National Household Sample Survey – PNADC by IBGE, referring to the 2nd quarter of 2022, the unemployment rate for the working class as a whole aged 14 years and over is 9,3%. When the PNADC/IBGE data is broken down by color/race and sex of workers, unemployment for black female workers reaches almost 14%. Regarding the average earnings from work earned by employed black female workers (R$1.763), they earn 34% less than workers in general, who earn, on average, R$2.652; and 39% less when compared to the white worker, who earns, on average, R$ 2.877.

On October 6, 1982, Maurício Tragtenberg (2011, p. 201) published a text addressing women's participation in the workforce with the title “Woman and work”. Through statistics, he draws a picture of the systematic increase in the female workforce of people over 10 years of age: “In 1950, out of every 100 workers, 17 were women. In 1960, that number rose to 17. In 1970, it rose to 18, and in 1980, out of every 100 workers, 27 were women”. In current numbers, according to the PNADC/IBGE, 2nd quarter of 2022, of every 100 workers aged 14 or over, 44 are women, or almost 48 million of the economically active population - PEA, of which 42 million are employed and 5,5 million looking for a job.

And, in the same text, Maurício Tragtenberg (2011, p.202) concludes: “Two and a half million women earn less than half the minimum wage; 5 million, up to a minimum wage; and 8 million earn up to two minimum wages. The average monthly income of women in 1980 was Cr$7, half that of a male worker (Source: simesc, Florianópolis, nº5)”. Updating the numbers, based on PNADC/IBGE microdata, 2nd quarter of 2022, 17,3 million female workers earn up to one minimum wage, or 43% of the female workforce. And the average monthly income earned by female workers (R$2.292) is about 21% less than that of male workers, who earn, on average, R$2.917.

Returning to the article “Women and work” (2011, p.202), there is a descriptive picture of female occupational insertion: “Women work in low-skilled sectors and earn little. In the North and Northeast, she works in subsistence agriculture (40%). In São Paulo, due to mechanization, it reaches only 8%. Of every 100 salaried women in São Paulo, 33 are domestic workers, 95% of the primary teaching staff are women, 60% are secondary teachers and 23% are university professors.; 28% of men work in the industry, while women reach 15%”.

In the current context of capitalism in Brazil, which continues to produce little or nothing to improve the material well-being of the working mass, mainly because the labor-type reforms of 2017 have weakened the protection of workers and, with that, deteriorated their level life, where poverty affects one in five people (according to calculations by the World Bank, 2022), the employed EAP totals 98 million workers, of which 42 million are female. Of every 100 industry workers, 34 are women; out of every 100 salaried workers, 13 are in domestic services; out of every 100 self-employed workers, 35 are women; and, finally, one of the striking characteristics of the type of capitalism prevailing here is its informal labor market, reaching 40,1% of the workforce (more than 39 million people), where for every 100 informal workers, 42 are female. (PNADC/IBGE, 2nd quarter 2022).

Here is a bit of the versatility of Maurício Tragtenberg's thought, in particular the analyst of the concrete problems of the proletariat in movement. In these terms, the feminism evidenced in his texts is situated in the field of workers' social struggles, and has as its starting and ending point the claim for equal conditions for women and men.

In times when the wind is blowing to the right, more towards the truculent extreme right, Tragtenberg's lucidity and courage is a breath of fresh air, for the ideas he defended and for the practice he expressed, above all for the intransigent defense of a movement of common solidarity and international relationship between male and female workers.[iii]

*Marcelo Phintener is a doctoral candidate in political philosophy at PUC-SP.


PHINTENER, MJ The philosophical sources of Maurício Tragtenberg's thought: inventory and subsidies for understanding a philosophy of combat. Master's Dissertation in Philosophy. Postgraduate Studies Program in Philosophy at PUC-SP, 2021.

POLESE, P. Machismo, racism, identity capitalism: corporate strategies for gender, race and sexuality issues. Sao Paulo: Hedra, 2020.

TRAGTENBERG, M. workers' autonomy. São Paulo: Editora Unesp, 2011.



[ii] In the context of advanced capitalism, notably in transnational companies, gender and race guidelines are incorporated into labor relations. In those terms. the representation of women has achieved important gains, notably with regard to well-being and diversity, equity and inclusion, which have been fundamental to guarantee social peace in the work environment and, consequently, contributed to increased productivity ( POLESE, 2020). On this, see also.

[iii] Text presented at the II SEMINAR STUDIA BRASILIENSIA BRASILEIRAS: women from all times and spaces, on 07.10.2022, event organized by the Teaching, Research and Extension Laboratory in Philosophy and Social Sciences – LAFICS/UFTM.

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