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Domestic Worker Organizing in Neo-Authoritarian Brazil

Silverman, Jana; Acciari, Louisa; (2022) Domestic Worker Organizing in Neo-Authoritarian Brazil. New Labor Forum , 31 (2) pp. 44-52. 10.1177/10957960221090961. Green open access

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Abstract

Brazil is a country marked by historically rooted social, political, and economic inequalities. These are linked primarily to the centuries-long legacy of slavery—over five million slaves were trafficked to Brazil from 1501 to 1866,1 over five times the number brought to the United States before 1865—and to the dependent form of capitalist development adopted by national elites. In 1888, Brazil was the last country to formally abolish slavery, although historians debate the continuum between enslaved and “free” forms of work during the post-abolition period.2 As an emblematic example of the legacy of slavery, the 1943 Labor Code deliberately excluded from its scope the two sectors with the largest share of Afro-Brazilian descendants of enslaved people: rural workers and domestic workers. In recent years, neoliberal reforms have exacerbated these inequalities, with the implementation of drastic public spending freezes, the promotion of micro-entrepreneurship at the expense of formal-sector jobs, and a labor reform adopted in 2017 that severely debilitated workers’ rights. The 2017 reforma trabalhista is infamous for expanding outsourcing, ending unions’ core source of funding, authorizing precarious forms of contracting such as part-time and temporary work, and weakening workers’ access to labor justice courts.3 This drastic erosion of workers’ rights has been further exacerbated in the context of the pandemic crisis, and there have been significant increases in modern forms of slave labor in some economic activities, such as domestic work. This article looks at union organizing in this neoliberal regime from “the margins.” It assesses the effects of the 2017 labor reform, from the perspective of one of the most precarious and excluded sectors: domestic workers. It shows that despite structural and long-standing inequalities, this category of workers has heightened its organizational capacity in a moment when most of the union movement was put on the defensive. While many protected segments of the workforce are facing important losses, leading to an unprecedented decline in unionization rates, domestic workers are utilizing their already existing survival and resistance strategies to strengthen their movement.

Type: Article
Title: Domestic Worker Organizing in Neo-Authoritarian Brazil
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1177/10957960221090961
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F10957960221090961
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © 2022, The Murphy Institute, CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 4.0 License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/) which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage).
Keywords: domestic work, informal economy, trade unions, post-impeachment Brazil, labor reforms
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > Inst for Risk and Disaster Reduction
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10152121
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