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12.00  The Crisis in Industrial and Labour Arrangements in Urban Everyday Life: Ethnography in Porto Alegre, Brazil

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When considering the theme of the global crisis in the context of contemporary Brazilian cities, we cannot escape reflecting on a set of data about the agreements and clashes among actions resulting from the experiences of their inhabitants. According to recent data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE 2013), since the 1960s, which was an important period for the dissemination of developmentalist ideas in Latin America, Brazil has become an increasingly urban country. Nine out of ten Brazilians now live in large urban centres; a phenomenon that is the fruit not only of the mechanization of rural work, which in the 1950s led to an intense migratory process in a rural-urban direction, but also of the national developmentalist model adopted by the Getulio Vargas government, seeking the modernization of industrial production in Brazil. 

Along this route, there has been a significant increase of space occupied by cities in Brazil in terms of square kilometers. This has implications on the lifestyles and worldviews of a wide variety of different social classes. According to IBGE estimates, the area occupied in Brazil by the large urban centres should increase even more in coming decades, expanding the limits of the urban peripheries. From 1980 to 2014, all of the country’s state capitals had a significant increase in the size of their metropolitan regions. 

In an attempt to confront this increasing population density, public policies change their standards to reconsider the administration of large urban centres, which are now treated in terms of “metropolitan regions.” This is because the growing urban density in the large cities of the country has engendered the expansion of cities to environmentally sensitive areas that surrender spaces to new residential, commercial, and industrial districts. There has thus been an increase in the variables that must be considered in the development of public policies to meet the demand for water, sanitation, transportation, healthcare, and education of the populations that reside in these gigantic urban networks. 

For example, in early 2015, three of Brazil’s largest metropolitan regions—Greater Rio de Janeiro, Greater São Paulo, and Greater Belo Horizonte—faced a serious water-supply crisis. The main reservoirs of the southeastern region of the country were depleted by the combination of a dry period and the way water resources were used by the urban populations of the capital cities and their metropolitan regions. The repercussions were felt mainly in the water supply systems in the peripheries of these large cities with impacts not only on private residences, but also on industries and countless public institutions such as schools and hospitals, highlighting the problem of the “management of scarcity.” The debate about the national water resources policies focuses on three major issues: the planning of water supplies; the control of demand; and the management of conflicts in large Brazilian cities that combine different social sectors (industry, agriculture, commerce, and the population in general). 

As urban life in Brazil became more complex, many analysts pointed to the rise of new forms of work, consumption, and family life in the large Brazilian metropolises. Data from the IBGE (InterB, NYU) indicate that from 1991 to 2013 the average number of children per household fell and as a result, the average number of people living in a single residence dropped from six to two. Seen in isolation, this data could lead to think that this decrease in the urban centres of Brazil would lead to lower urban density. But other IBGE data indicate that since the 1990s, the number of residences in large Brazilian cities grew by 85%, a rate more than double that of the population, which grew by 35%. This led to a drop in the number of people under the same roof from 4.2 to 3.3 individuals in the 1990s alone.

Meanwhile, some economic studies indicate that the expansion of employment in Brazil from 1964-2013 has contributed to the economic growth of the country. The only country to grow more than Brazil in that period was Mexico, while South Korea, India, and China grew slightly less. But the limited productivity gains by the Brazilian workforce indicate that Brazil’s economic growth rate should decline in coming decades. The military regime of 1964-1983 corresponded generally to what is known as the epoch of the “Brazilian miracle,” but the economic legacy of the dictatorship for the period of re-democratization was what is known as the “lost decade” of the 1980s. According to the IBGE, 43 out of 100 formal workers in Brazil are laid-off during the year (a rate three times higher than in the United States), and more than 90% of the workers who receive unemployment benefits wait for the benefit to expire before they look for work. Consequently, the country has a high labour turnover rate.

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