Mutual Aid Project – Mutirão Unión de La Juta


1. History, background and context

The city of So Paulo has an important history of popular movement experiences in housing construction through self-managed mutual aid mutiro where the population discusses the projects, the form of execution, and management of the public resources. Within the many self-managed mutiroes undertaken in So Paulo over the past 20 years, that of La Juta Union stands out as one of those which most developed popular organization during the construction works and even more so after their conclusion. This is due in large part to the planning, execution, and administration of community facilities from the beginning of the process.

In the majority of mutiroes, after construction is completed the families retire to their homes and self-management fades or even disappears. Except during the government of the Workers Party (1989-1992), this has occurred in part because these projects suffered all types of retaliations and lack of support, which debilitated the cohesion of their members. Conservative governments are not interested in strengthening popular organization forms or allowing the emergence of any alternative which questions the power of the large private construction companies and contractors, which are responsible for the construction of enormous complexes during the military regime, and whose relations with the State and with politicians are not entirely licit.

The La Juta Union mutual aid project began in 1991, within the context of the municipal administration of the Workers Party, despite belonging to a mutiro program of the State government. The program was won in 1990 thanks to mobilization of the Housing Movements Union (UMM) and the Landless Movement Este 1, which brings together homeless families from the eastern outskirts of So Paulo. The lands known as La Hacienda de La Juta where So Paulos largest mutual aid experience would take place, with 15 mutiroes and close to 3,000 at the moment this document was drafted were secured in the late 1980s through occupations promoted by housing movements. La Hacienda was an enormous unoccupied region in eastern So Paulo whose owners were waiting for its real estate value to increase. Successive occupations led to its expropriation to convert it into a social use area. La Juta Union was the second mutiro to install itself on the lands and the first to do so in agreement with the State government. It all began thanks to the associations decision to go on the land and begin the works with its own resources.

The mutiroes of La Juta Union represent a novel alternative to the regions precarious and self-constructed neighborhoods, and are also centers of popular organization that aim to provide alternatives for young people to drug trafficking and organized crime. This is an increasingly difficult battle within the context of social and urban disintegration aggravated by seven years of the neoliberal and anti-popular government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

With its constructions concluded three years ago, La Juta Union now has community facilities whose activities benefit the entire La Juta region: a community bakery, a hall for parties and cultural activities, and soon a library, a project for the elderly, and a community pizzeria. All of these actions extended self-management beyond the conclusion of construction works, bringing forms of autonomous income-generation, education, and cultural production.

2. Objectives, strategies and scope

Despite its modest scale, with 160 apartments, a mutirao like this shows how the outskirts of the city of Sao Paulo can be transformed. The lack of governments that support and multiply the number of self-managed mutiroes has been an obstacle to such transformation. What has happened instead is a process of isolation of the mutiroes, which remain as an oasis amidst the chaotic and violent city fringes.

The specific strategy developed in La Juta Union, and which distinguishes it from most of the other mutiroes, was the emphasis placed on community facilities and their agglutinating role, more than on the homes alone. From the start, these community facilities were discussed, planned and built with the technical assistance entity which accompanied the project, USINA. The childcare center began operation during the construction works, attending to children from the entire region and children of the mutiro inhabitants during the weekend. This broadened the mutiro toward the entire region, converting it into a focal point not only for its residents but also for the broader community.

This irradiating role of the La Juta Union mutiro continues today stronger than ever throuh the community bakery which provides bread, milk, diverse foods, and its famous oven chicken on the weekends. As a complementary activity to the bakery, there is a professional bread-making course with political and cultural formation for young people between the ages of 15 and 21. The fruit and vegetable store is also a reference in the region, as well as the June parties and the dances organized in La Juta Unions hall. The childcare center currently attends to 60 children from the entire La Hacienda region.

In addition to these innovative socio-economic aspects, the project incorporates important technical innovations. It consolidated a process which the USINA architects had been experimenting with since 1990: the verticalization of a mutiro construction. It was previously said that the mutiro would be incapable of producing housing solutions for So Paulo because it only produced houses where the land value demanded building construction. USINA was the first to establish, in 1990 in the Copromo project, a vertical mutiro construction model based on ceramic blocks that support concrete pillars and beams, in addition to using metallic stairways implanted at the beginning of the project and which serve as a safe route for people and for material transport. Without scaffoldings, wooden framing or excessive supports, the project was very easily carried out with very little wasted materials. The technology was disseminated among all the vertical mutiroes carried out from that time forward.

3. Actors involved and their roles

The beneficiary population (160 families) worked on the project on the weekends, contributing 16 labor hours per week, in addition to participating in assemblies, electing coordinators, and directing the project.

The technical advisory team provided by USINA gathered the families suggestions with which it drafted the construction plans. USINA also accompanied each construction stage, assisting and orienting the work groups, and supported the coordination and general assemblies.

Religious-based social organizations, like the ecclesiastic base communities from the Belm region, assisted in the organization work, in securing the land, maintaining the childcare center, and in the community kitchen and infirmary. The Caritas organization from the Episcopal Belm region contributed financially for acquisition of kitchen, infirmary, and childcare equipments.

The land and the project finance were facilitated by the State government, which during the Mario Covas administration (1994-2001) produced several obstacles in the follow-up to the project, with all kinds of blackmail schemes such as expulsion of the technical support team. Currently, the same government (assumed by Geraldo Alkimin), intends to charge an absurd price for the land, whose expropriation process clearly favored the former owner and the intermediaries, with serious corruption levels. It is important to recall that the land expropriation occurred only after the land had been occupied by the movement on two occasions.

4. Program or project components

Habitat elements included in the process:

  • The housing, facilities, and public spaces were produced through mutiro
  • Infrastructure and services were installed by the State government.

Social and cultural aspects:

  • The popular participation included: occupying the land, implementing the mutiro state program, obtaining finance, discussing the project with the advisors, and organizing and managing the housing and community facilities construction works.
  • Organizational strengthening occurred throughout the entire process of struggle and construction, and continues today even after construction has been completed.
  • Up to the moment in which the land and finance were secured, the Movements political autonomy was high, but its material autonomy was low. The land was occupied and the bases were mounted through the effort and resources of La Juta Union. During construction, the State government attempted repeatedly to break the Movements autonomy, but that autonomy was regained at the end of the project and is now much broader.
  • Negotiations with the government were always tense and wearisome, even interrupting construction several times to force the advisory team to leave the project. The government was unable to continue construction and in the end the advisory team returned to conclude it. This maneuver was part of a government action to break the established self-management and the good relations between the advisory team and the Movement.
  • Womens role was fundamental in the process. In the construction process and the management of community facilities, as well as in coordination of the Housing Movement, the women are a very representative and often majority group.
  • From the cultural point of view, there are some difficulties for approximation between the mutiro inhabitants and the advisory team. There is dispute over control of the construction project which has to do with cultural elements, such as confrontation between certain inhabitants and the technical team as to who knows better how to build. There is a distinction between popular know-how in self-construction and that of the upper-level architect or engineer, and this difference which can become complementary or antagonistic.

Economic strengthening of participants and/or ecological sustainability:

  • During construction, the mutiro was an important source of employment. Close to 20 operators were directly contracted, in addition to those employed in the supplier companies. Once construction was completed, these jobs disappeared.
  • On the other hand, the community facilities provide long-term employment opportunities. The childcare center, bakery, and community center currently employ 25 people.
  • The professional bread-making course contributes to provide alternatives for youth to avoid drug trafficking and organized crime.
  • We also work in garbage collection to collaborate with the economic sustainability of the childcare center, which receives donations of aluminum cans, paper and glass which it sells to recycling companies.
  • The housing complex has a bio-climatic design which facilitates ventilation, and its implementation creates internal plazas and walkways with gardens. Low-energy consumption materials were used in construction, such as ceramic blocks.

5. Primary instruments used

The basic elements were participation, self-management, and autonomy. All decisions were broadly discussed. At the time of construction, there were training activities, assemblies, seminars, group meetings, etc. Every Saturday morning, the families gathered to review the construction program and share news from the Housing Movement in general. Each family had a score which increased as the process progressed. Points were accumulated through the familys presence at the worksite and in the assemblies, political acts, and land occupations, and functioned as a way of measuring each familys merit and effort, avoiding the favoritism and client-type relations which are so common in Brazilian society.

Financial and legal:
After multiple acts and negotiations with the State government, the Housing Movements Union was able to establish a mutiro program. An agreement was signed with the State which financed the project. The funds were allocated monthly in accordance with physical construction measurements and the effected benefits. In addition, there was a community savings fund for emergencies and to cover small expenses such as transportation, office materials, cleaning supplies, etc. La Juta Union is currently facing struggles with tenure regularization, which is a problem for all the mutiroes.

Administration and management:
Administration of the construction works was carried out by an elected coordination team. Material purchases, which constituted the backbone of the project, were carried out by a specific commission. The account balances were reported monthly to the State and to the families, in accordance with Brazilian accounting norms.

6. Achievements and main lessons learned

Following completion of the construction process, the residents feel fulfilled and victorious for having achieved a dignified life thanks to organized popular struggle. In the community, the people perceive that through the housing they have conquered other rights as well, such as education (the childcare center and professional training), employment (25 jobs) and childrens and adolescents rights (with the childrens health program monitoring their development from the womb until age seven).

Other community achievements include the health clinic, school, transportation, and all the infrastructure (water, electricity, pavement, telephone), obtained through participation of the La Juta Union inhabitants. Other jobs and income sources have also been generated around the community.

In regard to public policies, we participate in councils on childhood and adolescence, housing, social welfare, and tutelary councils, where we present proposals for the city. In city management, we participate in conferences, participative budget making, and presentation of our experiences.

The greatest hindrance we faced was the State government, which imposed multiple obstacles. At one moment it attempted to blackmail us, by imposing that construction would be halted unless the technical advisory team left. We were told we could finish with the governments support and resources if the advisors left, or we could keep the advisory team but get no more finance. The majority of families opted to finish the project with finance and without technical assistance. But the government was unable to administrate the project and decided to allow the team to return. It was a lesson learned on the political risks we face and the costs we pay.

Today, La Juta Union, along with the entire La Juta community, is facing problems related to increased urban violence in the region. There is constant confrontation and negotiation with the drug trafficking and organized crime in certain sections. This has reinforced the housing complexs isolation, contradicting its strong irradiating character.

It must be emphasized that the entire process was carried out with conflicts at various scales: within the association, between inhabitants and contracted workers, between the association and the coordination, the association and coordination versus the advisory team, and all of the above with the State government and with the surroundings, etc. Our history is built through the journey of overcoming, accommodating, or resolving these conflicts. There is no fully harmonious or conflict-free social process. But within these conflicts, it is necessary to know how to establish the common field of struggle that is the transformation force of change for our society.

A housing and citizen construction process like this one is an experience which demonstrates the strength of the organized people.

7. Key words

Brazil, So Paulo, self-management, popular participation, citizenship, ecclesiastical base communities, autonomy, technical innovations, womens role, agreements.

8. Contacts

Asociacin Unin de La Juta
Av. Dois 1053 Fazenda da Juta- So Paulo-SP, Brazil
Tel: 55-116119-7760/ 6111-9086

Calle Horacio Lane, 153 So Paulo-SP, Brazil
CEP 05409-011
Tel: 55-11 38149540