April 2, 2021
From Notes From Below

An interview with the channel Treta no Trampo (@tretanotrampo) by Francisco Miguez and Victor Guimarães (Cinética – Cinema e Crítica). This interview was originally published in Cinética and has been translated for Notes from Below.

Throughout 2020, Brazil was traversed by App workers’ mobilizations, which had their most visible moment in the Breque dos Apps – literally, “App Brakes” –, national strikes called for the 1st and 25th of July. The recording of audiovisual materials on WhatsApp during work time, a common practice amongst couriers, raised awareness for its fundamental role in the organizing of those struggles. Some of those images and audios were assembled in agitative videos by the channel @tretanotrampo and assumed a viral role in the convocation of protests. While comrades in India and China already analyzed the political potential of workers’ memes in TikTok and Doyin, here we had an experience of a militant intervention in a very similar ground, which we discuss in this interview to “Cinética”, a film criticism magazine.

“Treta no Trampo” – Treta: May mean a fight, a struggle, a confusion, a difficulty, a hard situation. An indefinite form of conflict. – Trampo: Encompasses any kind of work, from the most formal to the most informal side hustles. An indefinite form of work.

CCinética, Francisco Miguez and Victor Guimarães

TTreta no Trampo

CWe’d like to understand a bit more about the origins of the channel @tretanotrampo. How was this collectivity formed? What was the primary desire?

TThe primary question might have been: what can a proletarian journal be in 2020? Between the 19th and 20th centuries, the proletarian press played the role of organizing workers’ experiences. “Organizing” here means registering, elaborating and putting into circulation experiences of exploitation and struggle in the factories. Many militant traditions highlighted the journals’ role and, in the end, “to organize” might simply mean to draw an organized figure to the conflicts that already occur in the work process – and thus stimulate them.

A specially interesting development of this notion was done by the autonomist workers’ tendency during the Cold War period, stating that on both sides of Berlin’s Wall the same rules were organizing factories’ assembly lines. If the most important revolution of the 20th century had resulted in a variation of capitalism, then there was no definite formula for the future, and the core of any political program should come across an investigation of the given moment. The classical term concerning this investigation is “workers’ inquiry”. At first, the term may suggest the idea of “making surveys”, as in sociological research, but it isn’t necessarily about that – and its form can actually vary. For the historical autonomists, it involved printed newspapers, and we think that today it might happen through social media and contents they accommodate, like videos for example. The main thing is to: look at the work process and the conflicts in it, because there you can spot tendencies, forms and contradictions of class struggle in each historical moment.

In some sense, this vision also assumes that the proletariat isn’t a given subject, ahistorical, but a class that shapes itself politically in moments of struggle; therefore, it only exists during the treta. The form created by the struggle isn’t detached from how work happens, on contrary: as productive forces transform themselves, so do the struggles. Today everyone talks about uberization, but which conflicts may possibly emerge from the work on delivery apps, and where do these conflicts point to? This is a good example because, as a rule, left-wing raise demands formulated within the framework of the Fordist wage society as a universal parameter – which in Brazil were mediated by the CLT (“Consolidation of Labor Laws”) and the official State unionism. So it seems pretty odd that several couriers don’t want formal contracts, but are in strike anyway. Therefore the channel was created so we could monitor the real movements of the current working class recomposition: to register those struggles, stimulate their development and reflect over their meanings. Couriers’ struggle, in particular, was a spark that caught fire, but the idea is not to restrain the channel into one specific sector, especially because work today is scattered everywhere. That’s why we say treta on infinite trampos.

CMany of the videos were apparently made from materials sent by couriers. Others, apparently, were filmed in the streets with them. Could you tell us a bit about this process of film-making? And, maybe, about these differences between choosing one or the other?

TThere are infinite couriers’ WhatsApp groups that are used to share information about the streets, police operations, assaults, accidents; motorcycle, bags or jacket sellings or exchanges, drivers’ licence, work, any kind of stuff. These groups end up being an informal structure for work organization by workers themselves, parallel to the Apps. At the same time, as it contributes to the Apps better functioning (couriers tell one another in which parts of the city they can get more races, if there is any bug in the system, help each other on problems with the support, or with account blocking…), the WhatsApp groups are also the space where sometimes appears memes mocking the work, or where they venting their frustrations, and also organize protests. It was through the structure of these groups, with links between local and national groups, that the July 1st strike was articulated. As the call spread, people started recording selfie videos saying “here in our town we are also stopping!”. These videos served both to create a reference in their own city, and to encourage couriers from other places to join in as well. It got into a dynamic similar to the TikTok and Instagram “challenges”. We compiled these calls in one single video and put out a call asking couriers to send us more.

Video with English subtitles

Videos from this struggle posted in Treta’s page were mainly collages of audios and videos from discussions the movement was having on Whatsapp. But we also captured some images on the streets, as we did in the series “A Courier’s Diary”. It was a type of inquiry about work-related problems at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, in which we talked to couriers’ lots [bolsões] and followed smaller acts that were already been happening. The resulting difference in the video’s format is more than a choice, it is a thermometer of the struggle. When the struggle is hot, the workers record themselves and take upon themselves the task of building the struggle. The inquiry becomes a self-inquiry.

Video with English subtitles

CWhat’s the profile of those people who participate in making and editing the videos? Are they college students, film-making professionals? How do couriers participate in this process?

TIf the video is part of the struggle, then we can define it like this: whoever makes the video is in the struggle. But there are some nuances here… One of the texts you published, “Treta no trampo, cinema de breque” by Victor Guimarães, comments a bit about the way videos are made, “composed from video materials sent by workers – bikers or motorcyclists – from various corners of the country”. It’s quite interesting his analysis of how this recording is made on the front with the tools of work, “each phone wielded as a weapon of struggle”. However, if it is true that this results in a “notable difference to the traditional efforts of militant filmmakers” from the point of view of filmic form, one cannot ignore that there is still a division between the recording on the frontline and the editing moment. That is, there is still some “militant filmmaker” there in the middle of the process, even if obliterated in the heterogeneity of the crowd.

This anonymization is even intentional because it serves as a stimulus to self-organization. On the other hand, the risk of erasing this moment of montage – whose technical conditions are often beyond those that the movement as a whole has in the street – is that strikers delude themselves regarding their own action, their own capacities and weaknesses. For those who already have an invisible boss in the “cloud”, it wouldn’t be so strange to have an invisible, nebulous political direction, right? So, looking critically at how films are made, they walk a fine and tense line between reinforcing self-organization and a kind of dangerous substitution.

CYour work seems to us to be very different from other film productions considered militants. For example, by betting on a polyphony of voices and registers, instead of tying together a single discourse through a narration. Is this difference intentional? How are the discussions within the collective about how to make each video?

TThe polyphony results from the very mode of production of these images – to one or another recording that we make in the streets, we add the materials found in WhatsApp groups: audios recorded in a discussion between deliveries, mobile phone videos recorded offhand in the streets or at home after work etc. – which in turn may correspond a bit to the work form.

We could, of course, try to eliminate all this when editing. But whose voice would we use to narrate? An external voice makes very little sense – maybe because what we sometimes call class consciousness doesn’t exactly come from the outside, like an off-screen narration. It makes more sense to understand and show what’s already being said and spread by the couriers’ themselves, but which gets lost in everydays’ hassle. However, this has no relation to any notion of “place of speech” [standpoint politics], it’s not about that. Through this standpoint logic, for example, leftists might find a courier who serves as a mirror towards them, a courier who says exactly what this audience would like to hear, and then enthrones the guy. As isolated as their positions may be among their co-workers, they seem to have some representativeness due only to the “courier identity”.

On the other hand, it would be false to say that the edition makes nothing more than to “assembling” WhatsApp’s raw material. For the volume itself, which is immense, it needs to have a selection. There is a clear choice on giving visibility to positions which reinforce class conflict and struggle tactics that go through the daily work routine, in spite of others – for example, speeches that echo the unions’ or associations’ position (that aims to take the struggle from the streets to the courts, to the legislative etc.). It is also a political option to mix multiple voices instead of maintaining the personalistic form of the youtuber or the leadership, a form that appears in most of the individual videos. In the merging of several voices of delivery workers, the idea of movement also resonates, a movement that is made “by us and for us”, without the need for unions or politicians. The video attempts to make a call that does not ask for passive adherence to the decision of a group or personality, but encourages in its own form an active participation in the movement’s direction.

CHow did you come up with the elements of the “Breque”, such as the striped banner, or the rap? Did it come from couriers’ materials? What’s the importance of thinking this iconography in the mobilization and how do you assess, in general, the iconography and aesthetics from leftists movements in relation to the aesthetics of the Bolsonarist WhatsApp?

TThe zebra stripe appeared together with Treta, at the beginning of the pandemic, when we were trying to approach an aesthetic which was not yet “well polished”, but associated to precariousness and to this state of emergency that took us all by surprise, but in fact already marked the experience of work and urban life in general for a long time.

It’s funny that the striped banner physically appeared in a struggle at that time. The newspapers were reporting the first cases of covid, the virus was spreading, we were seeing the quarantine measures in other countries, but here the situation was undefined. Each day that passed, going to work seemed more tense and absurd. And in telemarketing companies – imagine what’s like to be in an operation with hundreds of people talking and breathing in closed air conditioning all day long – this overflowed into strikes, protests, walkouts, collective absences and other wildcat actions demanding to be released. If sanitary institutions did not move to interdict the call-centers, then the operators themselves began to take actions that temporarily interdicted these workplaces – and at one time or another they used the striped banner to block the passage and signal the danger.

This telemarketing movement was erupting at the same time in several cities around the country, and gained a more or less cohesive aspect with the call for a national strike of call centers on Friday, March 20th. The operators exchanged information through WhatsApp and Facebook groups, and that recalls the Breque. You can watch the videos from that time on the Disk Revolta page, and it’s interesting to note an important aesthetic difference in relation to the couriers: the recordings always register a crowd outside the company, on the street, or the empty service stations. The selfie format from couriers’ videos is out of the question for formally registered employees, as they maintain a relation of direct submission to a boss, who fear of dismissal for just cause, etc.

As for the songs, it’s true that besides rap there was also funk and a samba from Bezerra da Silva. But rap is important, and especially those from the 90s, because they were some of the better elaborated and politicized expressions of the experience of urban social war. References to war are present in the couriers’ discourses. “Warriors”, “troop”, “fight”, “battle”, etc. are terms used to talk about the work itself. The reality is that the theme of war runs through the whole situation, and it is no wonder that a captain and a general won the last elections. This translates the social reality. There is no way that the mobilization does not go through there, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that the military symbolism tends to conservatism. After all, the war that is waged in everyday life is the traffic, the job market, the voracious dog-eat-dog of everyone against everyone else. An important part of national rap, which marked an entire generation of young workers – many of whom are now on motorcycles – sees this war from a critical point of view, that points to the real war which interests us: class war.

Video with English subtitles

It can be comforting to explain the circulation and success of Bolsonarist materials through the massive spreading of sensationalist fake news in social media, as if people were chiefly manipulated, and then close our eyes to the truthful elements embodied in discourses from this new right-wing. No wonder the left’s aesthetics are not convincing: as a rule, they conceal the violence, in an attempt to regenerate a citizenistic and democratic language that has already expired. It sounded hypocritical when the left was governing, now it just sounds naive. There is a text that debates this issue called “Brazil: How things have (and haven’t) changed”.
In the case of breque, the left-wing “anti-fascist” materials seem to have had more circulation in a niche of app customers – whose relevance in the boycott movement against the brands should not be underestimated. Among workers, a video is emblematic in which a courier passed a string with wax to cut out the part of a pamphlet with the signature of a collective with “Left” in the name, and sticked the rest of the pamphlet on the bag, thanking them for printing the material.

CThe finished works don’t have the signatures of individuals, and we find this very interesting, especially nowadays. In this case, how do final decisions of montage/edition work? Is there a kind of internal deliberation?

TSince what matters is not personal or collective promotion, for this production authorship makes no sense. Sometimes, a material without a complete signature, of which you can’t know the origin, has more impact and circulation than signed ones. Between the choice of increasing the number of followers of the page or the circulation of the material, we chose the second option. Perhaps this is also why anonymous material is more popular: you are sharing the political message contained in the video, and not promoting someone (be it politicians, unionists, influencers, company, groups…). It’s the video that matters, not who. Even “Treta no Trampo” is a kinda generic signature – more than a group’s name, “Treta no Trampo” is the description of a political line. If you are promoting a strike, you are promoting treta no trampo.
The fear of repression and the diffuse and massive character of this work (no wonder most of them are called “Cloud”) also plays with anonymity, with the idea of being together with the masses, without standing out and becoming a “star”.

CWe noticed in the works a certain tendency toward a variety of registers. How to deal with such diverse material?

TIn another article that you published, “Seriam os informais formalistas?”, the author Juliano Gomes discusses the differences in quality, quantity, type of compression or format of the videos, and what this says about the struggle. The more varied and less homogeneous the records, the greater the real dimension of the movement and the participation. It is no wonder that some of the videos which circulated the most are precisely those more heterogeneous and diverse.

Video with English subtitles

CHow do you see the work of the videos in relation to the breque’s mobilizations? What is your current assessment of the video’s mobilizing capacity and their ability to imprint an aesthetic on the movement, both for the delivery workers’ movement and for the population?

TThe video is part of the mobilization process. It is not only the circulation of the video that mobilizes, but making the video is also part of the process. When couriers gather in a parking lot and record one of those selfie videos in a city, they are already building the strike there.

On the other hand, nowadays, as one comrade observed, any mobilization quickly becomes the images made of it. On July 1st in São Paulo, for example, although there were blockades in dozens of malls, warehouses, restaurants and supermarkets in the morning and in some cases even at night, this went unnoticed before the striking image of the massive motorcycle march on Estaiada Bridge. The image of the mobilization then becomes that of the union’s sound car, while the diffuse action – perhaps less photogenic and certainly less spectacular – is lost.

Another example: the second Breque, on the 25th, was much more passively attended than the first one. The concentration spots were much emptier. But the emptiness, in this case, was also a result of the very way the strike occurred: many couriers simply took the day off to stay at home. The parking lot from Shopping Center Norte is usually crowded, with dozens and dozens of couriers waiting for orders at lunchtime. On that Saturday, a day of high demand, you could only see half a dozen scabs (or “desperate starved”, as couriers would say) waiting for races. But what image does this emptiness produce?

CWhat is your assessment today after the two breques and what are the prospects for Treta?

TA few days ago, we went to a parking lot with a courier to talk about the breques and the current situation at work, thinking about filming some of these assessments. It was not easy. Nobody seemed to want to talk about it and among those who did, the answers varied to some degree: many said that the mobilization didn’t help at all; one of them said that it was still worth it because it was a “revenge” of the couriers; others believed that the stoppages had resulted in a series of small improvements in working conditions. Perhaps all of this contains a bit of truth.

Recently, several couriers came across a message from Rappi saying that it had misplaced the region of a promotion and therefore were simply not going to pay the bonus promised for those who had met the goal announced the weekend before. Couriers’ movement on social media and the threat of making a protest at the company’s headquarters was enough for them to back down on their decision and start paying the workers. It seems to be a sign of an unrest with no defined political form, which started in July and is far from over, periodically manifesting itself in some tretas here and there. We want to stay close to these tretas, either among couriers or in other corners of daily exploitation.

CIs there anything else that you find interesting to highlight in your work, but that we didn’t pay attention to?

TThat it’s not work, it’s treta (laugh). When it comes to work, we want treta.

Source: Notesfrombelow.org