Between 2003 and 2015 there was a decline in the poverty rate in Argentina, as well as in the unemployment and informal employment levels, as a consequence of the significant shift of the economic policies adopted during this period. These policies differed greatly from the neoliberal policies which were predominant during the 1990s. However, there are some differences observed in the evolution of these indicators: whereas the decline in poverty and unemployment levels remained fairly constant throughout this period, the levels of informal employment showed a sharp decline at first but, as from 2012, this trend started slowing down. In this respect, according to some interpretations, the decrease in levels of informal employment would have reached a plateau, as though the economy of Argentina tended to reproduce it.
After the change of government in 2015, the country began an uncertain path regarding labor relations, a shift which was associated with the political trends of other countries of the region, particularly those which had shown similar trends of economic expansion during the first decade of the century. The Pension Act reform, together with the increase in unemployment levels and the drop in salaries, undermined the worker’s power of organization. Labor informality levels have been increasing again since 2015, a trend which is reflected in the concurrent growth of its two key indicators: unregistered employment and self-employment.
In this context of contraction of the economic activity, which results from the shift in economic policies brought by the new government, the apparel production sector was one of the industrial activities which was mostly harmed, mainly due to the drop in demand in the domestic market, the financing difficulties derived from the increase in interest rates, affected – as well – by the growing competition from imports.
With this dissertation we aim to analyze the processes of organization of informal workers within the apparel production industry, during the government of “Cambiemos” alliance which took office in 2015.
We start by characterizing one of the most common forms of employment in this industry, in which an “attachment system“ is established, which predetermines the insertion of the worker in the labor relation: from the beginning, the worker becomes a “debtor” of the employer, who is responsible for a variety of expenses related to its living conditions, such as transportation, housing and food for the worker. This system determines the perception of the work performed by tailors in particular, as “slave work” inside clandestine workshops or “sweatshops”. This kind of work involves a personal bond, a personal subordination to the employer, which exceeds the dimension of the labor contract subject to law in a capitalist society such as this one, which requires as a condition to be entered into by a free employee. As it will be shown in this study, in this personal bond there is an economic and extra economic coercion exercised by the owners of the sweatshops, towards the workers. This bond which precedes the labor contract, through which the employer finances the expenses which support the living conditions of the worker, establishes the subordination of the worker in terms of a creditor-debtor relationship.
As a conclusion, the study of the labor relations within this industry shows that these are articulated following two different forms, so it is necessary to differentiate the institutionalized forms of employment from the non-institutionalized ones. These other forms involve a group of workers which count with less rights and less power of association, thus turning their already precarious situation into a vicious circle which hampers the possibilities to overpass their condition of exploitation. However, the organization of tailors in work cooperatives and textile hubs, through the action of social movements which strive to improve the labor and living conditions of these workers, serves to foresee new possibilities of change.
Keywords: Informal labor – Social policies – Personal subordination – Social movements