Lula on the Gig Economy and Capitalist Alienation

From 1975 – 1981, Lula was President of the ABC Metalworkers Union in São Bernardo do Campo, the polluted, industrial satellite city of São Paulo where he still lives to this day. On Saturday, January 29, he returned to his former union to congratulate its new President, Moisés Selerges. The following is an excerpt from his speech in which he talks about the effects of the post-coup, 2017 labor reforms which rolled back labor rights by 70 years in Brazil, and the alienation caused by the Gig economy that was facilitated by these reforms.

What were us metalworkers when this labor category began? Moisés’ father remembers. Normally metalworkers were people who had moved in from the country – people who may have taken a trade course.  They were people who were entering the world of the factory for the first time. They were people who often had moved here from the countryside to work in the auto industry, or they were people like me who had come from Northeastern Brazil to work. We didn’t have much education. We may have have finished grammar school, maybe high school and at the most, trade school. But these kids today have studied a lot more than we did. These kids have college degrees, Moisés . Your kids have college degrees and your grand-kids will get them. Wagner and Sergio Nobre (Ex-Metalworkers Union presidents who were at the event) – their kids have college degrees. These kids today have studied 3, 4 or 5 times more than we did.

But even though these kids studied more than us, what is their future? You economists, what future awaits these kids? What can the labor market offer for these youth who studied, who believed, who dreamed, that now realize that they can’t have the stability their parents had because they invented a bunch of lies about us. They even said that our rights like the 13th paycheck, vacation and profit sharing were all the “Brazil cost”. They said if they removed all of those rights that the working class achieved, we’d become a cheaper labor force and they’d pay less taxes and the businesses would grow and they’d take what  they had been paying in taxes and it would go towards our salaries. This was a lie. They didn’t pay. They didn’t grow.

Today the newspapers are showing that we’ve had the largest fall in salaries since the IBGE started measuring them in this country, because work has become precarious. The kids today are getting jobs that pay half of what their parents earned. These kids have college diplomas that the companies often don’t even look at. There are people with college diplomas working at gas stations. There are people with college diplomas that the businessmen haven’t even asked to look at because they are offering a job that pays R$1500 or R$1600/month. They’ve even invented this idea that working with a signed labor card is too expensive. That the worker shouldn’t want this and that he should be, you know what? An individual micro-entrepreneur. Buy a bicycle and start delivering for Ifoods because you are an individual micro-entrepreneur. A small businessman. Who doesn’t want to be a businessman?

When I was working in the factory in 1972, you know what my dream was, Moisés ? We didn’t have the word “micro-entrepreneur” back then. It’s a new thing. During those days our dream was to leave the factory and either open a bar or buy a taxi. This was our grand aspiration. Either open a bar – and some of us really couldn’t do it because we’d drink it instead of selling it and we’d want to by a taxi. These days, no. These days they tell kids if they buy a car and start working for Uber they’ll be micro-entrepreneurs. And they just realize they aren’t when the car breaks down, when they get sick, when their spouse gets sick and they realize that they don’t have any rights. When they realize that they’re working much more to pay the app than they bring home to take care of the family. When the motorcycle crashes and they gets hurt they realize that they are worth nothing. They realize that they are an instrument of an app and they don’t know their own bosses.

Back in our day we knew our bosses. We’d go to the factory door and insult the Germans, we’d insult the Germans at the door of the Mercedes factory. We’d insult the colonel at Volkswagen, we’d insult the major at Ford. Now they don’t have them. The guy who grabs a bike to deliver pizza doesn’t have anyone to insult because the face of the app is invisible for him. He doesn’t have any rights, he doesn’t have a labor card, he doesn’t have vacation, he doesn’t have maternity support or a 13th check. We are going back to being pariahs in a capitalist system that is modernizing in technology but that doesn’t benefit the working class.

This excerpt was transcribed and translated by Brian Mier