“In this time of crisis, when they are expropriating the people, we want to expropriate the expropriators, namely, the landowners, banks and big retailers.”
With these words Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo, leader of the Andalusian Union of Workers (SAT), United Left (IU) member of parliament in the Andalusian regional parliament and mayor of the rural town of Marinaleda, justified the August 7 seizure of food by SAT members from two stores of the Mercadona and Carrefour supermarket chains — the Coles and Woolworths of Spain.
Sanchez Gordillo organised a diversionary protest outside the Mercadona store, while SAT secretary-general Diego Canamero directed the operation against the Carrefour store.
The actions, aimed at providing local food banks with supplies of basic products, was announced beforehand to the media and, in the case of the Carrefour store, resulted in an agreement with management to make available 12 shopping trolleys of provisions to local charities.
Polls showed about half of Spanish people supported the action.
Nonetheless, it has set off a storm of hysteria in Spain, with the national attorney-general Jorge Fernandez Diaz ordering the identification and arrest of the participants — mainly unemployed rural workers.
National ombudsman Soledad Becerril, a recent appointment of the ruling Popular Party (PP), said that “the law must be applied to the Andalusian MP as to any citizen, given that what is involved is a robbery and a bad example”.
She said female checkout workers had been “maltreated” and hoped “the prosecutor takes that into account”.
Seven have been arrested so far. Two were charged with theft and violence against persons.
Jose Antonio Grinan, leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) in Andalusia, where it governs with IU as a junior partner, attacked the SAT actions on Radio SER as “illegal”, “profoundly negative” and “madness” — a “populist road that not only doesn’t resolve problems but can make them worse”.
The actions have also raised tensions in IU. Federal coordinator Cayo Lara said: “It has managed to open up the debate [on poverty and hunger]. That’s positive, but it was not something decided by IU … I would not do it and I would not advise that it be done because I believe there are other ways of getting the issue into public debate.”
Former federal coordinator Gaspar Llamazares said the SAT action was “symbolic” and denounced the media hysteria. “What is scandalous is that more than a million families don’t even have a euro on which to live.
“This action aimed to dramatise that a limit has been reached where families in Andalusia and the rest of Spain are cutting back on their number of meals a day.”
Sanchez Gordillo, who this year led the opposition within the Andalusian IU to take part in government with the PSOE, said that “if the attorney-general has revived Franco, the ombudsman has revived the Inquisition”.
He said she should explain which article of the criminal code should be applied to former Bankia boss Rodrigo Rato and the king’s son-in-law, Inaki Urgadarin, who are being investigated for fraud and influence-peddling.
Sanchez Gordillo was speaking from the SAT occupation of idle land owned by the defence ministry, which the union is demanding be made available for cultivation and where he says he awaits arrest.
SAT followed the actions against the supermarkets with the first of a series of “workers’ marches for jobs” in Andalucia. The marches demand a special plan for rural employment, the release for cultivation of unused public lands and a minimum wage for the 350,000 families in Andalusia who receive no income.
Interest is also growing in Marinaleda itself. The town, where Sanchez Gordillo has been mayor since 1979, has no unemployment (the official unemployment rate in Andalusia is 34%).
Its economy is based on rural cooperatives, farmed on land won from big landowners in the years following the end of the Franco dictatorship. The town also helps residents build their own houses, with loans paid off at €15 a month.
Marinaleda has no municipal police, and all decisions are made by mass assemblies.
The Fourth National Assembly of the 15M (indignado) movement was held in Marinaleda last November.
[Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona. Read more articles by Dick Nichols.]