By Bernat Costa Reimondez (Sevilla Editorial) / Translated by Robert Dyas
Despite the recent media furore following the action of the Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadores (Andalusian Workers Union), this is a kind of civil disobedience that is not unusual in Spain.
On 7th August, in a large comemercial building in Écija, Seville, several union members walked in with shopping trolleys and filled them with pasta, rice, chickpeas and other basic products. There were 10 trolleys in total. In Arcos de la Frontera, Cádiz, the same occurred. They passed by the tills; today, they decided, they were not paying. They are here to expropriate food for the families in the town most in need. They are labourers from the Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadores (SAT - Andalusian Workers Union) that are hoping to bring to light the fact that there are families in Spain going hungry, that there are 1.7 million households with all family members unemployed. In Arcos de la Frontera, the Guardia Civil stopped them leaving with the goods. In Écija, a cashier had a panic attack.
In the latter case the unionists were successful and filled a van with ten trolleys of food thanks to a strategy of distraction. A similar strategy to that followed in another supermarket in the locality; a recognisable face stationed at the front of the store with megaphone in hand, namely Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, mayor of Marinelda and member of the Andalusian Parliament. The food therefore reached the needy families in the Corrala Utopia, an apartment block in Seville occupied on the first anniversary of the 15M to re-house 32 families whose homes had been repossessed or were in imminent danger of being repossessed.
The day before, the SAT had notified the press that they were preparing a surprise action. As such they ensured the media reaction they were looking for was achieved. The day after the event, the Interior Minister came out “to play sheriff” according to Sánchez Gordillo. He ordered the arrest of the unionists involved and the police followed the orders: three unionists were detained. The mayor of Marinaleda also received a summons which was delivered to him an open space owned by the army that had been occupied by the SAT a couple of weeks before. They were accused of theft with intimidation with possible jail terms of two to five years. “It’s like the times of Franco, there’s no separation of powers”, the SAT claimed in relation to the behaviour of Fernandez Diaz, Interior Minister. The MP of the IU (Izquierda Unida – left wing parliamentary party) and SAT member Sánchez Gordillo has confirmed that the expropriations from large supermarkets will continue “until the Government guarantees by law that food be donated to the most needy families at least five days befote its expiry date.” Currently only 20% of the supermarkets comply with this measure according to members of the SAT.
Six years have passed since the first of May when, as part of the protests organised by the May Day South in Seville, a group carried out a similar action based in the concept of “autoriduzione” (auto-discounts). This is a form of protest common amongst the autonomous movement in Italy that has been replicated in times of crisis in countries such as Argentina during the corralito (measures taken to stop a run on the banks such as freezing bank accounts).
In 2006 it was a group of poor people who expropriated a supermarket in the Andalusian capital. That action led to a trial in which the prosecutors demanded two years in jail for the accused. They were eventually acquitted. Javier Toret, who was charged, remembers that their defence lawyers were themselves from the SAT and the CGT (another union). On that occasion, Toret recalls, they chose a supermarket from the Plus chain that had sacked one of their workers for requesting a reduced timetable due to maternity pressures. The action was characterised by its media relations nature, with a reading of a manifesto by “the virgin of poverty”. The expropriation of a supermarket on May Day in Seville in 2006 concluded with the acquittal of all the accused.
A similar action was also carried out in the area of Nou Barris in Barcelona. On 19th December 2009, the Asamblea d’Aturats de Barcelona (assembly of unemployed peoples) filled up several trolleys in a supermarket of the Caprabo chain. At the tills they attempted to negotiate down the price and the response from the management was to call the Mossos d’ Esquadra (Barcelona police division). Three years after the event, three people remain charged with complicity in the action. The three were those that remained outside the line of the tills in the supermarket, two of which were identified by the Mossos. Their lawyer, Hibai Arbide, stated that the trial would take place in spring of next year despite there being video evidence that clearly shows the accused did not even participate in the action.
We have here then just three of the actions that, in the past six years, in various parts of Spain, have served to highlight the margins, abusive prices and working conditions in the major supermarket chains. The SAT, a union with much influence in Andalusian agriculture, say that they cannot understand that a basic food item that “costs 60 cents when collected from the fields, can be sold for 6 euros in a big supermarket”. They condemn the price of food which they say has been inflated by the great number of intermediaries that now operate between those that work in the fields and those that consume the final product. Meanwhile the actions of the SAT have now been copied in Mérida, where 50 members of the Colectivo la Trastienda y de la Plataforma por la Renta Básica (Backroom Collective and Platform for a Basic Income) attempted to remove several trolleys of basic foods from a Carrefour before being intercepted by the police.
Other actions by the SAT
March of the workers On the 30th August the fourth stage of the workers marches organised by the SAT began in Granada. In September they will take place in Malaga (3rd and 4th September) and Seville (5th, 6th and 7th September).
Eleven detained in La Caixa On the 27th of August, 50 members of the SAT carried out an action in La Caixa (bank) in the Puerto de Santa Maria (Cadiz). This was in protest at the bank’s demands on homeowners that were resulting in repossessions. During the protest, which took place during the union’s third workers march in Cádiz, eleven participants were arrested.
A day at the palace The SAT, the self-proclaimed “most legally persecuted union in Europe”, also occupied the area of land known as Las Turquillas (land owned by the military) for three weeks before being removed by the Guardia Civil. On the 21st Augut two hundred people also occupied a hotel in the palace of Moratalla en Hornachuelos (Córdoba) for several hours.
[This article was published in Spanish on August 30th, 2012]
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