Who was Laudelina de Campos Melo, pioneer in the struggle for the rights of domestic workers in Brazil

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A country with more than 5 million domestic workers, Brazil saw the birth of the union movement of the category in the city of Santos in 1936, at the initiative of Laudelina de Campos Melo in search of better working conditions. And more than 80 years after this milestone in the activities of the activist and union leader, honored by the Google doodle this Monday (12/10), almost 7 out of 10 domestic workers do not have a formal contract. During the pandemic, more than 1 million jobs in this sector were destroyed in Brazil.Laudelina was born in the mining town of Poços de Caldas on October 12, 1904, less than 20 years after the abolition of slavery in the country in 1888. She started working at the age of seven, dropped out of school to take care of her siblings while her mother worked, and at the age of 16 she started working for social organizations in the black movement.

According to sociologist Joaze Bernardino-Costa, at that time domestic service was mentioned in health and police laws only in order to protect society against domestic workers, which were explicitly perceived as potential threats to employing families. “If even today the association between slavery, domestic work and black people is still present in the social imagination, without a doubt in the first decades of the 20th century, this was still very present”, he wrote in his doctoral thesis by the University of Brasília (UnB) . The performance of Laudelina and other pioneers was essential for the category, and by extension for black women, because domestic workers were not entitled to union membership and were not protected by current legislation.

The category would only guarantee formal contract and social security rights in 1972, but still with serious restrictions on domestic workers.

Political performance and persecution

Already living in São Paulo, Laudelina’s trajectory gained political contours in the 1930s, when she joined the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) and fought for the Brazilian Black Front (FNB), an entity of the black movement that would also be recognized as a party.

At the same time, he founded, in the beginning of that decade, the first association of domestic workers in Brazil, in Santos. At that time, other entities of the category would also appear in São Paulo. “The situation of the maid was very bad. Most of those old women worked for 23 years and died on the street begging. In Santos, we were taking care of them, treated them until death. It was a residue of slavery, because it was all descendants of slave, “she said in an interview with educator Elisabete Pinto, published in her master’s dissertation by the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). But these entities, the PCB, the FNB and so many political, cultural and class groups would end up being persecuted and closed during the dictatorship of Getúlio Vargas in the Estado Novo (1937-1946). And even the Consolidation of Labor Laws (CLT), which unified in 1943 the labor laws that existed until then, would not bring benefits to domestic workers. During World War II (1939-1946), Laudelina enlisted to work as a war aide in the country. “Hitler was the greatest executioner that existed at that time. He said in the Blue Book that he would eliminate all races that were not Aryan, especially the black race would be eliminated. So it took me, it brought me a revolt inside me. So I decided to enlist to serve the country “, explained Laudelina to Elisabete Pinto. She would work as a domestic worker until the mid-1950s, when she lived in Campinas (SP) and started earning money through a pension she set up and salty snacks she sold on soccer fields. The association she founded had returned to function with the end of the Vargas dictatorship in 1946, but the trajectory of persecution was not over. With the military coup of 1964, which again instituted a dictatorship in the country, the association of domestic workers had to take shelter in the UDN (National Democratic Union) party, whose main leadership was Carlos Lacerda, in order not to close its doors. departing from his entity in the late 1960s, and would only return to it at the end of the dictatorship, at the request of friends and companions. In 1988, with the promulgation of the new Constitution, the association would finally become a union. Laudelina would die in 1991, at the age of 86, in Campinas. And only in 2013, with the approval of the so-called Domestic PEC, domestic workers would be entitled to benefits similar to those of other professional categories, such as a 44-hour workweek, with a limit of eight hours a day, and the payment of extra hour. “(Laudelina’s trajectory) was fundamental for the organization of the category in the search for rights. Laudelina also raised, through her union action, flags against racial prejudice and against discrimination against women”, says the National Federation of Domestic Workers.

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