This past Saturday, the 11th, deliveries for digital applications held a nationwide strike against the platform companies. Workers who are not seen as workers, who go on strikes that are not seen as strikes. The new ‘Breque dos Apps’ claimed for better working conditions and an increase in the rate.
It is noteworthy that this is not the first wallist action carried out by this category in the context of the covid-19 pandemic, and that despite the low repercussion by the traditional media, the mobilization was articulated in several Brazilian states, carried out in a scenario of intense dispute in the streets between defenders of democracy and neo-fascism.
The deliverymen’s break shows us that the workers’ struggle for digital platforms and for applications, in general and specifically, takes place in an arduous path of convincing and mobilizing categories, as well as involving society as a whole.
This movement continues to be marked by internal divergences regarding the need for recognition of the employment relationship, with the greatest consensus being the criticisms of the value of the rates, which have not been readjusted for years – reason that forces couriers to extend the journey awaiting new orders and carry them out with maximum speed and risk in order to achieve greater returns.
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The articulation of deliverymen against companies Food, Loggi, Rappi and others, occurred in parallel with the boycotts that drivers by application have made to platforms Uber and 99 due to tariffs considered insufficient given the high price paid for fuel.
Interestingly, on the eve of the deliverymen’s strike, the two companies in question, specializing in passenger transport services, decided to increase the percentage passed on to drivers after the races.
The boycott of drivers by app was the target of stories in traditional media as well as critical memes and posts on social networks. In this same context, Brazilian users of Twitch, a platform that provides streaming service, went on strike — nicknamed “Apagão” — demanding an increase in the amount that is passed on for the hours worked.
It is possible to affirm that these independent actions, carried out by deliverymen, drivers by application and streamers, end up fueling the spirit of these very movements. It is noteworthy that despite the particularities of these categories and the way they carry out their work, they all live with very similar aspects of precariousness, imposed on a daily basis by platform-companies.
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It is important to emphasize that such actions, which demand minimum working and survival conditions, take place in a scenario of worsening economic, sanitary and political crises, of increase in the values of the basic food basket, fuel, water and electricity – issues that directly affect those fractions more precarious members of the working class, especially informal workers, who do not have any type of social and labor protection.
It is known that the strike is a historical instrument of the working class. This moment of absence of the production of the value generated by work for a certain time is the maximum expression found by workers, over the centuries, to put pressure on those who exploit them.
Acquiring new contours and spreading across all continents, this mode of claim marks not only the work environment in particular, but also the public and political debate in general.
From the workers of the first industrial revolution to the mobilizations that led to victorious revolutions in the 20th century; from Chaplin’s Modern Times to the student riots of May 68; from ABC Paulista to Breques dos Apps… This moment of absence, which is not necessarily filled with silence, reinvents itself and remains.
On another occasion I was able to write about the experience of a driver’s strike for apps called by the category union in São Paulo. Commenting on the particularities of this category and on the characteristics of its forms of claim, which emerge around the world, I made some notes on the urgency and challenges of the political organization of these workers, as well as the need to incorporate the agenda of recognition of the bond employment to their struggles.
Work stoppages carried out by digital platforms have acquired a very relevant dimension in the public debate. In the case of delivery people and drivers by application, this happens not only because their risks become essential for maintaining the quarantine of another part of society, but also because, in order to reflect the agendas of their mobilizations, they end up directly involving or indirectly, the customers of those applications.
Shutdown of workers by apps is almost always brought about by virtual and physical relationships, pressures on social media and the streets, and the involvement of workers and customers.
It is noteworthy that the solidarity of customers, however, should not be seen as a one-off task, should not be limited to the day when workers decide to stop to expose their agendas for better working conditions and wage income, even because, for these workers, stopping work for one day ends up generating double work in the following days – and this fact, by the way, is not a contradiction, but a direct condition of the absence of labor protection.
Carrying out a strike, recognizing that it necessarily impacts the family’s income at the end of the day, and that it can even cost them off on the platform — as workers easily have the task replaced by others that are available — is an action that can be driven by numerous factors. However, even with a superficial analysis of the discourse that is given by the workers, it is possible to point out a common reason: indignation.
The working conditions that platform-companies impose on their workers, and the silence of the Brazilian State in recognizing the employment relationship between them, promote criminal working conditions and precariousness of life. It is not uncommon for drivers to testify by application that drive for hours in traffic without any time set aside for rest, restrooms or meals, or records of deliverymen lying on sidewalks with their bags.
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Still on solidarity with these workers, it does not necessarily involve the permanent boycott of digital platforms, which will continue with the same modus operandi by relying on structural urban needs, as well as on the financialization of the economy. This solidarity goes beyond even a five-star rating for the work done, or even donating the few reais that are suggested by the platforms as a tip after the service has been provided.
We need to move forward with reflection on the meaning of establishing bonds of solidarity with workers through digital platforms, and, more than that, in ways to expand them. Recognizing that they are subordinate workers and overexploited by platform companies is a first step; legitimize their claims and forms of action and collective organization, a second; to add to these actions and spread the constant complaints they make, a third party. But it is necessary to go further.
At the level of parliamentary and legal institutions, several tasks unfold. We need, for example, to prepare and approve legislation that regulates this type of work and grants rights to workers, in addition to instituting rules that impose limits on the performance of platform companies, even establishing the collection of taxes consistent with their exorbitant profits in the country.
There is also the need to agree that the Consolidation of Labor Laws (CLT) should encompass this group of workers, guaranteeing them the same rights as workers already formalized – and, of course, fight in defense of the permanence and expansion of these rights.
In universities, we need to train professionals who are sensitive to the demands of these workers — from occupational health, with an integral look at the well-being of these categories, to the law, aiming at defending the recognition of the employment relationship to these categories. Furthermore, we need to train researchers who, using the appropriate methodological tools, will be able to contribute with precise analyzes and possible creative solutions to intervene in this reality.
In addition, social movements, and, among them, unionism itself, need to develop ways of approaching these workers, linking corporate demands to broader agendas; connecting immediate reality to the impacts generated by the prevailing market order, which makes life precarious and scraps universal rights and services.
By way of illustration, three possible paths could be established between unionism and the categories formalized with workers by digital platforms. The first one, the fight against the increase in the price of fuel, which affects the working class as a whole, and particularly the drivers and deliverymen per app. This struggle could be linked to the denunciation of the Bolsonaro government’s tax policies, enabling oil workers, a well-structured category, to find solidarity in their strikes and mobilizations in defense of state companies and public employment, by extending their agendas and solidarity actions to these categories in remarkable growth.
The connection of the lack of priority in the vaccination queue to drivers and deliverymen per application with the absence of an effective management to combat the coronavirus could be a second path. Such action would allow both the dialogue of workers in health, education and other public services with these categories, as well as could increase the ranks in more general struggles in defense of the Unified Health System (SUS), science and technology.
A third path would be the construction of a program in defense of the Brazilian industry and the automotive sector, guiding the production and consumption of the domestic market with a view to these workers, responding, albeit at a low level, to the scenario of deindustrialization.
The union movement itself says — and does — very little in relation to workers on digital platforms.
If, on the one hand, there are some concrete experiences of unions officially recognized by the State that seek to get closer to these workers, as well as the formation of collectives and associations that politically claim themselves as unions of these categories, on the other hand, the union leadership still does not seem to have an action plan was drawn up to formalize this type of work and/or effectively move forward with the organization of these informal workers.
In this sense, it is noteworthy that the three largest trade union centrals in Brazil, which work prominently in the sector of commerce and private services, where work through digital platforms is inserted, said nothing about the boycott, the brake and the blackout.
The revitalization of trade unionism practices and discourses so that this political agent can influence society, government programs and legislation, in general, is a challenge to be overcome by the international workers movement for at least three decades. The country’s historical and structural particularities, and the recent changes in the Brazilian labor market with the platform of work, make unionism’s responses even more complex.
The base entities and the organizations at the top of the unionism cannot ignore the space that has been occupied by the platform companies and their ways of managing, organizing and controlling work: it is necessary to deeply analyze this reality in the present time, build organizational responses to these workers and provide urgent alternatives to this form of overexploitation of work.
*Eduardo JR Pereira is a Master’s student in the Postgraduate Program in Political Science at the State University of Campinas (PPGCP/IFCH/Unicamp). He is a journalist, writer and militant of the Popular Youth Movement and of the Popular Consultation.
**This is an opinion piece. The author’s vision does not necessarily express the editorial line of the newspaper Brasil de Fato.
Edition: Anelize Moreira