Precarious labor and social reproduction in Bolivian immigrant sweatshops in São Paulo, Brazil

Authors: Clara Lemme Ribeiro*, University of Washington
Topics: Migration, Gender, Latin America
Keywords: labor, social reproduction, precarization, immigration, sweatshop
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 15
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper analyzes labor conditions and social reproduction in Bolivian immigrant garment industry sweatshops in São Paulo, Brazil. The analysis contributes to an understanding of the ways in which precarious labor is articulated with a simultaneous precarization of social reproduction, especially in migratory contexts.
Working conditions in Bolivian immigrant sweatshops include 14-hour or longer workdays, piece-work low wages and unsafe working environments. Usually, São Paulo sweatshop owners recruit family members as employees which adds to the complex interweaving of work and home. Based on in-depth semi-structured interviews with 11 women Bolivian migrants in São Paulo, I spotlight the gender-based arrangements of work and reproduction upon which the sweatshops are predicated. These arrangements blur the dividing lines between the home and the workplace, as well as the distinctions between paid labor and social reproduction.
Based on this empirical work, I argue that (i) social reproduction is a fundamental, but often overlooked dimension of the sweatshops; (ii) labor precarization depends on a simultaneous precarization of social reproduction; and (iii) garment-industry labor precarization blurs the dividing lines between labor and reproduction in a way that benefits the industry through the over-exploitation of labor. In other words, garment-industry working conditions are fundamentally based on precarious forms of domestic reproduction.
By way of conclusion, I discuss how labor precarization, especially in non-white and immigrant communities, is necessary for the unfolding of the contemporary crisis of capital accumulation. Additionally, I argue that a crisis of labor implies a simultaneously articulated crisis of social reproduction.

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