As a Street Vendor in Brazil

brazilNarrated by Juraci Sampaio
My name is Juraci Sampaio and I have a story to tell: I’m fifty-three years old, born in Guaraçaí, São Paulo state. My parents were country people. They had a small farm and were able to provide a good educational structure for us. My mom was involved with politics and once a month she would come to São Paulo. I came with her from the time I was seven or eight years old. My parents have already passed away, but the structure they left was very good. Today I rent a house here in São Paulo, where I live with my family: my daughters, my wife and my sister. I have my own house in Limeira, where my family is from.

My family isn’t rich. My parents valued studying and we passed this on to our kids as well. The only thing I have to leave to my kids is technical knowledge from the university of survival.

I think every human being has to have some basic knowledge of the world as a means of survival and tools that help you be able to struggle through it. One of the nicest things that I accomplished, which brings me happiness, is being involved in the street vending sector. I was good in school, and had the opportunity to go to two universities. But, really, of all my accomplishments, besides my daughters, working as a vendor is what got me most excited. If it wasn’t for the informal economy, I don’t know what my life would be like.

I worked at Bradesco bank, on Largo Treze de Maio, in Santo Amaro. In the eighties. I used to see a lot of street vendors working there, and everybody against them. I started to feel bad not defending them, because we come from the countryside, where my mother and father were always involved in social work. Suddenly, I saw a sector disregarded by society. I took advantage of my secure situation and said: “I’m getting involved in this area, there’s no profit, but it’s what I want”. And, at the time, I started a union.

I’ve seen the informal economy grow a lot. Today there are entities, unions, cooperatives who worry about the cause of this sector of vendors. I find it very cool that universities today have doctorate students looking at the informal economy, something rare twenty years ago. The informal economy is very fast. It’s an economy that people neglect, while they support the formal economy. It’s a sector totally different from all others. It’s an economy that will never end, so the least we can do is provide some quality for it.

São Paulo receives all of Latin America in commerce. That already creates a big difference in relation to the other cities and states where commerce is a little slower. The dynamic is very great, here we all work four seasons in one day. In the morning, from five o’clock, it’s coffee and cake. After eight, if it’s sunny, it’s sunglasses, that sort of thing. If it’s raining, it’s raincoats, umbrellas. And in the afternoon, as it gets cold, sweaters and coats come in. So the street vendor has to have four merchandises daily, to be able to switch quickly. That’s what makes the difference, speed, while formal commerce only works with one season at a time.

Can you imagine a hundred and fifty thousand street vendors working every day, selling on average three or four hundred reais a day? We contribute a lot to the economy. Also the convenience for people buying useful things on a daily basis. Example: today I forgot to buy a needle, an apple; I pass by the street vendor and take them home.

The informal economy has the advantage of helping a part of big formal commerce, which doesn’t have any way of providing the service we provide. That’s why they are two economies that should work together. The right way of thinking is absent among scientists, economists, even the very Chamber of Commerce, who should acknowledge that it helps the other economy. And the same thing for recyclable materials collectors; they are viable for society, because they are removing that refuse and re-using a lot of things that go back into the economy. What people don’t realise or don’t want to see is that the street vendor also wants to pay taxes. There are no vendors who don’t wish they were regularised in order to work freely. Today there are more vendors working without licenses than with, like the old-fashioned peddler.

Therefore these things must be discussed: the dynamic of the worker, his or her taxes, laws, rights, since many times there are no rights, especially INSS (National Social Security Institute). It’s all pretty incoherent, a better way to do things must be found.

Today street vendors have many health problems, too. The street brings a lot of disease: urine from rats, urine from God-knows-what, there are no bathrooms, especially for women. There is deafness in people who listen to car noise all day long. Many have spinal problems because they carry their stand on their backs. This area of street vendor health care is very complicated; that’s why it’s a really important topic.

We have to learn to live together, we have to learn to win over society, because often we have the image of opportunists who don’t want to work! But that’s not right. The informal economy is very important to the entire society and it has to organise itself better to attend to society. Public spaces are not only for street vendors and also not only for pedestrians, it’s everyone’s. We have to know how to direct it in a way that everyone is happy with. Brazil without informality doesn’t exist!

This text is a slightly shortened excerpt from the book “Ambulantes e Direito à Cidade – trajetórias de vida, organização e políticas públicas” (engl. “Street Vendors and the Right to the City”, published by Centro Gaspar Garcia de Direitos Humanos. São Paulo in February 2014. 1The testimonials of the street vendors were collected by the project team of the Gaspar Garcia Centre for Human Rights.

Article appeared in Tourism Watch, 75

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