Brazil: Occupy and resist — The “roofless†struggle in São Bernardo do Campo

“Occupy and resist”, that is the cry in the encampment Santo Dias, with more than 7,000 people camping in Volkswagen’s plot of land in São Bernardo do Campo, in the São Paulo state.

On 19 July, the Movement of Roofless Workers (MTST), organised an occupation on the old plot of land of Volkswagen, the 170 thousand square metres that were abandoned by the company more than 12 years. The MTST is demanding that the authorities build cheap houses on the land. Despite threats from the justice and state government to use the police force to evict the families, the people camping have made it clear that they will resist if the “shock troops” try to invade the Santo Dias encampment.

The encampment is organized in an exemplary fashion, though the conditions are difficult. The sheds, made of wood and plastic canvas, are numbered and grouped in “brigades” (kind of blocks) bearing the name of revolutionaries, such as Che Guevara, Rosa Luxemburg, etc. Recently, they built a canvas school, and the occupation facilities also include a pharmacy and a kind of central kitchen that organises food for part of the 3,000 families.

The “spectacle (show) of occupations”, as the state governor Alckmin called it when the MSTST simultaneously occupied four abandoned high rise buildings in the center of São Paulo and the Volkwagen plot in São Bernardo, frightened the speculators in the real estate business, who started to build walls to block the entrance of abandoned buildings to avoid new occupations.

There are approximately 6 million empty properties in the country due to high rents and the difficulty to obtain loans to buy your own house. According to the press, there are over 6 million ‘roofless’ people in Brazil. The real estate speculation in big cities, falling purchasing power and unemployment are the main reasons why families are forced to live under bridges and to the “favelization” (growing slums) in the metropolitan centers. Therefore, the struggle of the roofless is not only about housing, but also about jobs.

In spite of the attacks from the press and the authorities, the struggle of the roofless in São Bernardo have won the support of the communities neighbouring the occupation, unions, social movements and activists in general. According to one of the coordinators of the encampment, the occupation is also winning the support from the workers of Volkswagen, who are struggling against the companies plan to sack 4,000 workers in the process of “restructuring” the company. After talks between the coordination of the occupation and the factory committee of the workers of Volkswagen, the roofless are ready to occupy the factory together with the workers if Volkswagen starts the process of dismissals. In return, the workers express their solidarity by donating food to the occupation.

Within ten days there will be a new attempt in the court to try and get a warrant to evict the roofless. In spite of all their juridical apparatus and the media, they did not succeed in their first attempt. A court ruling calling for an eviction was revoked, which is a victory for the movement. Now it is necessary to maintain this victory and strengthen the occupation with a broad campaign of solidarity to assure that no roofless protesters are evicted.

Housing is a right that only can be won through struggle!

All support to the occupations!

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August 2003