This piece was translated by Alan Fernandes and the original in Portuguese is available here.
What does Emergency Aid represent within the social struggles that occur in the midst of the pandemic?
The project was approved in the midst of the pandemic crisis to alleviate tensions with unemployed and informal workers, who were adversely affected by the need for social isolation. The government’s reluctance to approve a amount greater than R$200 was defeated by popular and parliamentary pressure. Later, the president expanded the amount to 600 reais, trying to bring the popularity of the project to himself. The economic recovery by encouraging consumption, in the face of a government that advocates austerity and experiences a drop in productivity, was the arena for the contest. And this has as its center the reproduction of the workers, which in our view is the great stage of class struggle today. So it is a conflict within the social relations of production, having the importance that the life of each worker exerts in the circulation of goods and a guarantee that his survival can return as a producer of labor. It is the dispute between investment in the production of capital X reproduction of itself, which brings the importance of the struggle to maintain the handouts and its extension. The bargaining power of these people is between saving the economy in crisis or its disaster, in the case of its reduction. The politicization of beneficiaries, realizing the importance of putting themselves as poor and qualified to receive, produces a process of mobilization and dissemination about their needs. Where their reports and explanations acquire a very important role. In it, they perceive their collectivity and the importance in Brazil’s economic and social process. Radicality is in realizing the character of extermination in the government’s model of austerity, the discourse of cutting public spending, turns the perception of the project of hunger and contagion by COVID-19. Thus, these benefit candidates perceive the role of their struggle as an important solution to the current barbarity.
How do the beneficiaries try to mobilize themselves?
Mobilization begins with the first institutional mechanism to limit access to aid: virtual registration in the Caixa Econômica and Dataprev review. Those who were denied or remained in analysis knew that they were in the criteria to receive it. Many used Facebook or Whatsapp social media to talk to others in a similar situation, showing that they are poor and in need. This resulted in a series of investigations that generated results, as in a Data Favela survey, in which 37% of favela residents did not have access to handouts while there were cases in which high-ranking public officials and soldiers received them. This made it clear that there are failures in Dataprev’s rating system and that candidate rankings can be sampling elements for data analysis. In other words, each person who submitted a case, as did single mothers, unemployed with no unemployment insurance, and self-employed with no assistance, brought out elements of analysis that the institutional evaluation left out. It is possible to say that the beneficiaries themselves did their own “workers’ inquiries”, knowing their situation and exchanging their experiences. Each post in facebook saying “I’m a single mother, I received only 300 reais” generated some 120 comments from other people reporting similar situations.
On a local level, we have the example of Antonio, in Goiânia. An autonomous worker, who became unemployed, was cut off from the Bolsa Família (Family Assistance Program) and was under analysis, awaiting approval for access to Emergency Aid. He asked for help from the neighbors, who had a local movement. This became a mobilization that included a campaign to donate food stamps with help for beneficiaries to submit requests to the Caixa Econômica or demand their inclusion in the Bolsa Família via CRAS (Social Assistance Reference Center). In Rio de Janeiro, these campaigns were strong mobilizations, such as the Dandara de Palmares Quilombista School in Complexo do Alemão, Frente Cavalcanti in the northern region, and the Campanha por Vida Digna in Vila Isabel. These are ways to interact with people who do not have access to the internet. These support networks serve as a back up and support. The Data favela research showed that most residents participate in donation campaigns and most also enjoy them. This shows something beyond the management by charities, which is the possibility of mutual aid between workers.
Recently, these people have been making attempts to protest, in addition to the media pressure. Putting into practice the contingent of this mobilization. They have been focusing on reducing aid to R$300 and demanding discussion in Congress on the Provisional Measure – MP 1000 – which reduced the amount to include amendments that bring back the amount of R$600. The urgency is because people are already in hopeless against the reduction and deputies seem to be procrastinating about putting it on the agenda. Thus, it may also expire when the deadline for this expires, which runs until November.
As Mariana said, one of the beneficiaries, who did not receive the fifth payment and is leading protests: “(…) the message I have, [is that] only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches. It’s only the beginning, if we wait … because we wait it to spill. What I don’t want is the sinking boat. So we can’t wait anymore, we have to demand now not to miss October[payment], but three months of six hundred reais is the minimum that we want for us to be able to organize and keep control for when it’s next year we go back to normal”.
What is the average profile of these beneficiaries?
They are informal workers and unemployed, as stated in Dataprev criteria. But the profile of those present in the mobilization seems to show more about those denied, or who are still under analysis, or even that they have not been provided with payments. There are also single mothers, who should receive two or more benefits. A poll conducted with the beneficiaries showed that out of 250 interviewees in Brazil, 63% are single mothers who receive less than two benefits. According to a study released by EAESP/FGV, 38 million of the beneficiaries are informal workers who receive up to R$1,254.00 reais, have the oscillating income according to the gig jobs they can access each month, and have never had access to any type of social benefit. These are 61% of those who received the aid.
André Janones initially highlighted his support for the truckers’ strike, now appearing as a mobilizer for emergency aid. The popularity of Bolsonaro has also been growing due to the aid. How much this might clear the way for a popular base into a fascist content?
The popular basis for fascism occurred when, in the face of the economic crisis that took hold in Brazil, an angry right wing prevailed with a strong popular tone and attacking unemployment, placing as a supposed solution the loss of rights and the intensification of the labor charge with a reduction in income or in the worker’s salary. For this, the fear of unemployment was necessary to convince a good part of the working class that the guilty party would be the “left,” with the guarantees of rights that would be provoking from corruption to the reduction of jobs and income, because social rights would be a disincentive for businessmen. This mobilized sectors with “enterprising” vocations, as happened with truck drivers in the face of the strike. This made the contingent of a movement thicken, bringing the desires of middle sectors against the resistance of workers for social rights. Something very different happened with the mobilization for the Emergency Aid. For these are unemployed or informal workers, seeking their livelihood in the face of the production process that has placed them in extreme poverty.
When the pandemic came, President Bolsonaro’s speech changed from “choose: right or job?” to “economy or lives?” Thus, from the workers who were fighting for quarantine, when they found themselves under pressure to work and risk contagion, it is possible to understand that the granting of the emergency aid program is the first defeat of the Bolsonaro government. For the unemployed and self-employed now have a minimum reserve to avoid the extermination that was programmed in the violation of quarantine throughout Brazil. That is, it is a resistance to a fascist content, even if conceded by a far-right government.
And if we think of fascist content as the conservative march underway in Brazil, which targets workers’ resistance, the struggle to maintain aid is one of the most relevant foxholes against it. Of course, this is contradictory. The agenda, when attended, generated increased popularity of the Bolsonaro government. But its project finds limits, when considering the program as spending and debt, because it is not linked to increased productivity. But this is not a “natural” condition of the economy; it is a political choice, which puts the profit gain at low productivity against the economic return that the distribution of the benefit brings, which is the growth of the GDP even in the face of the economic crisis. So it is the working class that imposes the need and experiences of mobilization, facing the limits of this ‘bolsonarist’ project. This is imposed on the conditions for the dispute around the rent projects, as there was with the Renda Brasil [Brazil Income], whose financing cutting the unemployment insurance and the salary bonus for those who earn two minimum wages led to its rejection by the president. And also in the current Renda Cidadã, where Paulo Guedes does not support the use of precatories and resources from FUNDEB for financing. In this, Bolsonaro searches for support from other sectors. It seems that the dispute is placed over the austerity project, defended by one sector of businessmen against other sectors that seek productivity growth even with some public spending. In this, a way is open for conquests, materialized around the Emergency Aid. If the agenda is lost, there may occur an advance of this new Brazilian fascism.
It is also necessary to note the lack of capacity of a sector on the left-wing to deal with the Emergency Aid. Instead of understanding the importance and urgency of this struggle, It treats it as “fascistization” or “pobretology”. This would be an analysis of the poorest workers as passives facing income’s projects, as if this mass could not go beyond projects of productivity growth, as it was evaluated in the times of Bolsa Família. So, faced with the ‘fascistization’ already in progress, the left-wing participates in this process by discarding these workers as active and conscious subjects of the social process in which they are involved. It even seems that part of it seeks to maintain its status quo as a stratum of qualified workers and considers the others, in more impoverished positions, as ignorant and passive. Not to mention that it accepts the terms of the “economy x life” discourse, as if there were no economic way out except to accept the death and hunger of workers, something that extends from a bureaucratic left-wing to an orthodox “Marxism” stuck in the enchantment before the productive forces. These usually fall into the same despair as liberals, who talk about austerity as the only solution for the economy. Forgetting the variations and adaptations of capitalism in the face of workers’ resistance, as the policy of handouts itself does.
Where does André Janones (AVANTE party) come from? What he does is transform these anxieties into an instrument of mobilization, struggle, and feedback of militancy. He began his militancy as a lawyer defending the rights of citizens who were being cut off from their rights. Since that time, he used the resource from facebook of lives as a pedagogical tool to raise awareness of rights (since many people can’t read and don’t understand the laws, so they need a step-by-step explaining directly and verbally) but also as a form of pressure and mobilization of those who couldn’t be together with him at the door of the hospital pressing for the guarantee of the injunction (for example) that he had conquered for a client of an urgent procedure. He transplanted this model to his performance as a congressman, promising to make a “Big Brother” of Congress. During the Emergency Aid, he made lives that at the same time explained the rights of the beneficiaries, guaranteed that it was only about the return of their taxes and put pressure on the representatives of the Caixa Econômica, Dataprev and the federal government. These lives, daily and always responding to new demands, were growing until they were among the most viewed videos in the Westhern facebook. But the basic formula is simple: didactic (what is your right? why should you go after and really deserve it?), service (rest assured that I am running after your anguish, the payment schedule will come out, the Caixa has committed itself, Dataprev has said it will solve, I have recorded it) and political discourse (you deserve the benefit, no one can take it away from you, the solution to the economy is you and not the politicians, and so on). So this is not an outsider that came from the truckers’ mobilizations, not even a person who promotes fascism in his form of mobilization.
What have been the barriers to articulation between the beneficiaries?
There seems to be doubt among them as to who deserves the aid or not. Many fall into the discourse about the possibility of working. They quote in the groups phrases “whoever wants, works. Just sell candy”. As if “negationism” had succeeded in naturalizing the end of isolation and the immediate view prevailed that commerce had reopened, so there would be an offer for self-employment. There we see reflexes of ‘fascistization’, which is to accept the discourse of desperation and barbarism of the Bolsonaro government, which leads to accepting the extermination in progress. This leads to questions about considering that they should be grateful for the 300 reais, as if there were good will in times of crisis. But what seems to reinforce this is the prevalence of the fear of assuming poverty, as if it were “shameful” to need help or “to take advantage of an income directed at the poorest. Many self-employed workers have doubts about whether they deserve it or not. Or whether they really fit the criteria. They even fear being “detected” and cut off from the Dataprev system. This shows the real dispute that the struggle for aid brings: whether it will be subject to the limits of capitalist productivity or whether the workers’ struggle will impose new possibilities. The possible consciousness of perceiving their bargaining power in the economy is confronted with this “shame” of being poor. And also those who already receive their benefit despise those who are blocked or under analysis.
Is there a building of solidarity networks between the beneficiaries? And with the other workers?
The development of solidarity has already been attested between support groups, since the donation and exchange of help, as well as the search for their identification and inclusion in the government Aid. Despite the difficulties, it is possible to perceive a growing solidarity, as people who receive help, besides donating help to neighbors, relatives and friends. They live an engagement with others who are in need of the benefit. The prospect of demonstrations has intensified this desire among those who are building this militancy. With the other workers, it takes place immediately among the former beneficiaries and after they get jobs. And also among those who have been canceled, blocked, or under analysis. They continue to fight for handouts and help their fellow workers.