Enel cuts off the Douglas Rodrigues Occupation’s energy

In the coldest week of the year, thousands of families are fighting for access to electricity.

The Douglas Rodrigues Occupation was established in 2013. This occupation is the result of an organized action of the ‘Independent Struggle for Housing Movement’ in the neighbourhood of Vila Maria, in the North the city of São Paulo. Since 2013, the occupation, with an extension of approximately 50 thousand square meters, has housed thousands of families. In an important step towards formalization of the occupation, it was designated as a "Special Zone of Social Interest" a few years ago, by then mayor Fernando Haddad. However, on 28 June, these families were surprised by Enel, which, with the help of the Military Police, disconnected and removed the electricity cables bought by the residents themselves, leaving them in the dark and cold.

Enel, one of the private companies responsible for energy in the city of São Paulo, is one of the companies that has profited from privatisation. In 1999, the Italian multinational bought part of Eletropaulo, São Paulo’s public energy provider, and in 2019, it profited 777 million reais from the state's energy needs.

Enel has a poor record of dialogue with the community. The case of the Douglas Rodrigues Occupation is a clear example of what happens in the absence of dialogue. Similar to many other occupations, the site is the target of legal dispute after the owners formally requested repossession and, although the owners owe about 450 million reais to the state, they managed to block the transfer of the site to the state. The occupation, home to approximately 2.500 families, has been fighting to formalize the energy supply for eight years, without success – despite other public services including waste collection, water and postal services already being regularized. As a consequence of the lack of dialogue with Enel, the residents bought their own cables and organized an informal connection to the energy grid.

Cutting off the energy and removal of the cables has had a direct impact on the lives of the residents. The unavailability of refrigerators and freezers, for example, means that residents can’t store food and hinders the storage of medicines such as insulin, which must be refrigerated. The situation is being made worse by the fact that São Paulo is in the middle of an exceptionally cold winter. The last week of July saw temperatures drop to 3°C. The impossibility of heating water (for cooking and bathing) and food and accessing other necessities that require energy makes a difficult situation much worse.

Public Services International (PSI) is committed to organizing internationally to defend the interests of Enel's workers and those to whom it supplies energy. In 2013, PSI and other entities signed a Global Framework Agreement in which the multinational committed to social dialogue, recognizing energy as an essential resource for human and economic growth that must be provided with "a high sense of social responsibility and of protection of environment and of all the subjects involved in company operational activities and settlement."

These actions are being taken during a new wave of aggressive and even illegal privatisations in Brazil. To prevent such situations from being repeated, PSI has actively participated in the international struggles against the privatisation of public services, including Rio de Janeiro’s state water company CEDAE and Eletrobras, responsible for most of the energy in the country.

PSI mobilized with other Brazilian unions and published this statement of solidarity with the residents of the Douglas Rodrigues Occupation:

Solidarity with Douglas Rodrigues Occupation after Enel's energy cut

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The undersigned trade unions declare their solidarity with the residents of the Douglas Rodrigues Occupation, located in Vila Maria - a neighbourhood in the northern part of the city of São Paulo, Brazil - and demand the immediate restoration of power supply to the two thousand people who live there.

At international level, PSI, together with other Italian and international trade union organisations, through the Global Trade Union Council of Enel workers wrote a letter to the global managers of the company asking them to solve the situation:

Letter to the global managers of Enel asking them to solve the situation of the Douglas Rodrigues Occupation

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We have been informed of a very urgent situation which has arisen in São Paulo at the Douglas Rodrigues Occupation. This situation sees about 2000 families, many of them with serious social problems, without electricity supply. The electricity distributor in the area concerned is ENEL Distribuição São Paulo. These families had an unauthorized connection to the electricity grid.

This international struggle, led by the Independent Struggle for Housing Movement - Vila Maria, won a visit of Enel technicians to the site that took place on July 16th. The results of this visit are not yet clear. PSI continues in this battle, demanding that Enel restore power to the Douglas Rodrigues occupation.