BW of Brazil: Racism, discrimination, disregard and exclusion are daily struggles for black Brazilians and even more so for black women who not only face racial discrimination but also gender discrimination. As has been highlighted in various posts, black women face discrimination, exclusion or extreme under-representation in various sectors of Brazilian society (popular music, television, banking industry, domestic work, entrepreneurship, etc.) and today’s post features an inside look at a few black women who are using union militancy to address this discrimination in the job market.
Black women in the struggle for decent work
by Vanessa Ramos
Reconciling employment, education, and giving account of the various tasks of a home is an arduous routine, common to thousands of Brazilian workers. The work is daily, with two, three shifts, and is harmful to all women, but for black women the situation is even more complicated because other obstacles arise along the way: discrimination and racial prejudice, and inequality in job opportunities, access to education and health services, among others.
The difficulties and inequality are large and hence the importance of the struggle for rights. In this battle, women bank tellers, domestics, metallurgical, teachers, public servants or glass makers, it doesn’t matter the line of work, they chose the union movement as a way to fight for equality.
“Before we served the plantation masters; today we have another boss who also does not give us the social condition we require and to which we are entitled,” says the glass maker Rosemeire Teodoro, secretary of the Mulher da Confederação Nacional do Ramo Químico (Women’s National Confederation of Chemical Industry) and of the direction of the Sindicato dos Vidreiros de São Paulo (Union of Glassware of São Paulo). She and the metallurgical Andrea Souza were from the Comissão Interna de Prevenção de Acidentes (Internal Commission for Accident Prevention or CIPA) in companies where the presence of men is greater. They have excelled in the representation of employees and were invited to act as trade unionists.
“In the job market we earned less as women and, as black women, the situation is even worse. In the union space it’s necessary that black women have visibility, but they themselves need to take ownership of the issue, their condition and their race,” says Andrea, who is secretary of the Mulher da Federação dos Sindicatos de Metalúrgicos da CUT/SP (FEM-CUT or Women of the Federation of Trade Union of Metalworkers of CUT/SP.
Step by step on the road to equality – “I don’t regret my fight and my daily effort to discuss the issue because black militancy is good and necessary, even if it is arduous and painful,” said Anatalina Lourenço, who was part of the student and black women’s movement before joining the Sindicato dos Professores do Ensino Oficial do Estado de São Paulo (APEOESP or Teacher’s Union of Official Education of the State of São Paulo), where she is currently coordinator of the Coletivo Anti-Racismo (Anti-Racism Collective) of CNTE – Southeast Region.
The officer reports that racial quotas are among the thorny issues and the jokes made on a daily basis have, in most cases, the intent of disqualifying the debate. “The line between patience and confrontation is often tenuous,” recalls Anatalina.
“Discrimination is never fitting for defeat,” says domestic
Maria Regina Teodoro went to the Sindicato das Domésticas de Campinas (1) e Região (Domestics Union of Campinas and Region) due to a worker’s issue. In attendance, she met three leaders and was invited by them to participate in a meeting of a collective of black women. It was like this, by chance, that Regina, as she is known, became part of the union movement.
She began her journey in the press department of the union, in 1995, and came to win the presidency, her current position. “My first time was tranquil because in the press I did not have much contact with people. When I went to the general coordination, in my second term, I felt overt discrimination within the sindicato (union) when I made contact with employers and lawyers. They wanted to say that we knew nothing, they called us ‘dumb, dirty black women,” she vents.
The domestic also suffered various threats on account of lawsuits against employers, but her dedication to workers continues: “Coming from inside I wanted to prove that we knew what we were doing. Threats and discrimination are never fitting for defeat,” she says.
In banks, veiled prejudice tries to leave negritude (blackness) “invisible”.
Just a simple look at any bank branch one can perceive how small the presence of black men and women workers is. Do you remember seeing a black male or female teller the last time you went to the bank?
The banking sector is one of those in which skin color does have an influence on hiring employees: bankers back away black men and women in the position of teller and any other (position) where it’s necessary to come face to face with customers. And when hired, black men and women bank employees are limited to administrative positions, “invisible” behind doors far from away from agencie personalities and direct contact with customers. The complaint is from Raquel Kacelnikas, general secretary of the Sindicato dos Bancários e Financiários de São Paulo, Osasco e Região (Union of Bank and Finance of São Paulo, Osasco and Region).
“When I started in the Nossa Caixa bank, in 1977, it was just me and two black colleagues working an agency with 180 employees,” says Rachel, who joined the union movement at the invitation of a bank teller colleague. She calls attention to these masks that hide inequality of opportunity and assesses that keeping black men and women in invisible posts in the agencies is, in practice, a form of discrimination, albeit covert.
Public service – “It’s necessary to recognize the value, the competency of women, and that the gender issue is not a form of retaliation to exclude women and derail feminine ascension,” says Irene Batista de Paula, current president of the Sindicato dos Trabalhadores na Administração Pública e Autarquias (SINDSEP or Union of Workers in Public Administration and Authorities. Irene is a public health servant and Nilza Anezio de Oliveira, secretary of Social Policies of SINDSEP, is a teacher of municipal early childhood education. Today they are retired, but both became activists in the early ‘80s, when public employees joined in a wage campaign in the administration of Mário Covas, mayor of São Paulo from 1983 to 1985.
Nilza says that militancy in the union movement and various social movements affected her marriage and led to a separation. “But this whole range of participation in social movements strengthened me a lot. Today I am separated, my children have grown up, they know that I continue with militancy and they support me,” she says. She says she doesn’t remember having been a victim of prejudice directly, but as a reflection on the theme she is very present in the union and is always attentive to be able to act and fight discrimination.
Overcoming challenges – Rose Teodoro, the Sindicato dos Vidreiros (Union of Glassmakers), explains that education is the main way to promote racial equality. “Education is everything. Quotas and other social inclusion policies are very important and necessary and, therefore, the black population should go after their spaces. Only with more education and culture is how we will reduce social inequalities,” she says.
Even the metallurgical worker Andrea Souza (FEM-CUT/SP) is banking on the priority of union and political training of women on the shop floor as a means of learning and confronting gender discrimination and race, while Regina Teodoro, of the Union of Domestics of Campinas and Region, points out that black women face challenges in everyday life, but win every day. “She is a mother, a domestic, is the one who supports the family, and who takes care of the house,” she points out. Regina also highlights the importance of women becoming empowered through participation in the struggle for rights. “You have to understand that it is necessary to be present to fight. Everything changes when the mobilization is great,” she says.
Bank teller Raquel Kacelnikas believes that, despite the difficulties, it is possible to reconcile the education of children with union and professional activity. “Having children doesn’t hinder a woman’s fundamental right to build a better society, to fight and study. Having children or taking care of the house should not be a deterrent to fight for the conquest of rights,” says the bank teller. And Nilza Anezio de Oliveira’s message prioritizes the valuation: “Courage, comrades! Look at yourselves and value yourselves, because we don’t value ourselves, we think that women have to be submissive to everything, and this is not true. The woman’s place is in politics! It’s no good to say that you don’t like politics. If living is a political act, we are born and die doing politics,” says the leader of SINDSEP.
Source: CUT SP
1. Campinas is a Brazilian city of São Paulo State, in the country’s Southeast Region. According to the 2010 Census, the city population is 1,080,999, making it the fourteenth most populous Brazilian city and the third in the São Paulo state. Source