Charity is the answer!

Charity from the Catholic Church or asking for other hand-outs is the suggested way out of the crisis in Catalonia, according to a judge. In Britain and the US the answer is in the growing number of ‘Food Banks’ to provide emergency food aid.

Whilst in Catalonia I wrote a number of posts of the direct action that different groups (starting in Andalusia) have been taking in opposition to the austerity measures of the government. These measures were having the effect of forcing some people into such dire circumstances that they couldn’t even afford to feed themselves. The last post on this issue was about the spread of this action to Catalonia, to the town of Villafranca de Penedes.

En route out of the country (in fact, in a bar in Reus thinking it was better to spend an hour there than in the airport) I was able to read about the decision of the court in this last case.

Things moved very quickly as the action took place on the Monday and the case went before a judge on the Wednesday. The person charged was accused of knowingly trying to pay for goods with a card that had no credit. Don’t know enough about Spanish law to say whether that was actually a crime of fraud or whether it falls into another category. Whatever the case she was condemned to pay a fine of €90 (which it was said were the court costs of bringing the case before a judge) plus the cost of the goods taken away (€240.45).

I haven’t been able to find out what the group that made the raid on the supermarket are going to do in the face of this court decision. I would assume that after they had made their point they would pay up, martyrdom at this stage is neither a good political tactic nor worth the suffering, the movement is still in its infancy.

What I want to address here is the statement made by the (female) judge when she laid down the penalty. (Don’t know why I make a point of it being a female judge, perhaps it’s just that as Spanish differentiates between male and female in the language I know it was a woman.)

Anyway, what she said was that it was not for people to take the law into their own hands, however serious might be their situation, as they always had recourse to Caritas (the charity organised by the Catholic Archbishop of Barcelona) or other social services organisation who can help people in extremis.

After reading that I turn over the page of the Diari de Tarragona and read an article about how the Catalan Red Cross had distributed 3,000 cheques (totalling €180,000) to families with an income of less that €500 per month so that their children could go to school reasonably clothed and with the books necessary for their courses.

Must be getting naïve. Came across that situation in Peru after the Fujishock of July 1990 but didn’t realise that it was also a problem in Europe.

One of the points that was made in the article was that the Red Cross would give the cheques (not the cash) to the families who could then use them in stores that had already agreed to accept them. This was supposed to make it seem as if they were not actually receiving charity, so that they could be ‘discreet’ in their poverty. The article didn’t make clear, or I missed it, exactly how big an area this covered, whether it was all of Catalonia or just the Tarragona area but I can only assume that there must be many other thousands of families in similar circumstances throughout the rest of the peninsular.

I’m only back in Liverpool for a couple of days before there’s a piece on the late night Radio 4 Ten O’clock news about ‘Food banks’ in the UK.

It seems that one of these institutions, run by a church, in Ebbw Vale is regularly feeding 1,600 people.

An organisation called the Trussel Trust has 250 Food Banks throughout the country, now already feeding 200,000 and with the coming Benefit ‘Reform’ it is anticipated that there will be a surge in demand.

Then this piece on the radio went to compare the situation here with that in the US. It seems (I wasn’t aware of this before) that Emergency Food Aid was begun in the States in 1967. Now there are more than 60 THOUSAND Food Banks throughout the country which are providing supplementary food to MILLIONS of Americans.

What’s going on here?

Update 10th October 2012.

This article appeared on the Independent Online website.

Crisis-stricken Spaniards turn to Red Cross for help

La lucha continua becomes La lluita continua

Activists at the Dia supermarket, Vilafranca del Penedes

Activists celebrate

The practice of storming supermarkets, filling trolleys with the basic necessities of life and then leaving without paying is spreading. After starting in a couple of places in Andalusia groups with a similar agenda have carried such activities in Merida, Extremadura and most recently in a town in Catalonia.

I’ve written a couple of times about the groups of people who have invaded supermarkets and taken food without paying in order to then give it to people who haven’t any resources whatsoever and depend upon charity to survive. This in a country that is part of what is supposed to be one of the biggest economic players on the planet.

This is now starting to spread.

On August 24th 50 or so people invaded a Carrefour supermarket in Merida, Extremadura. They were stopped from taking anything away as the police arrived before they could do so but whether actually taking the goods was the aim of the action is not important. The main reason is to bring to a greater public attention the severe difficulties in which some people are living. All these actions are taken in the full light of day and they often film themselves. If you are interested in seeing a short video of the action follow this link:

One of the things I found interesting about the particular case in Merida was that although the police wanted to arrest one of the leaders this did not happen as Carrefour didn’t make any accusation against him. This, I’m sure, is a directive from up on high in Carrefour as the company wants to avoid any sort of reprisals such as those called for in the boycott of Mercadona who DID make accusations against those who invaded one of their supermarkets in Andalusia.

Not an expert on law but don’t think that would be the case in the UK. If I understand it correctly in UK law it is not for the ‘victim’ to decide whether a crime has been committed, but things might be different in Spain.

What’s important to remember here is that Andalusia and Extremadura are, and have been historically, two of the poorest regions of Spain, not least as there is little industry and the majority of the population depend upon agriculture or tourism for their living.

In the video you can hear the slogan of ‘The people united will never be defeated’ and they also shouted ‘If there’s no bread for the poor then there will be no peace for the rich’.

In a press conference one of the leaders said that there was ‘no Urdangarin here’ (a reference to the husband of one of the princesses of the Spanish Royal family who is currently under investigation for corruption and dipping into the public purse) and ‘no hunter of elephants here’ (in reference to a picture of the King of Spain, Juan Carlos Borbon, standing, gun in hand, beside a dead African elephant). So no royalists in this demonstration.

Although in Spanish you can get a bit more information from this link:

Earlier this week, on Monday afternoon, September 3rd, things spread further afield and a similar action took place in the town of Vilafranca del Penedes, close to Tarragona, in Catalonia.

Another of the big supermarket chains in Spain/Catalonia, this one called Dia, was invaded by a group of people who got away with food to the value of €241.45. This time they attempted to pay with a card that had no credit but took the food anyway. The manager tried to lock everyone in until the police arrived but they found a way out and got the food taken away, only to then wait for the police to arrive outside.

The group in Vilafranca was started in order to assist those people whose homes were being repossessed after they had fallen victims ‘in the good times’ to something similar to the sub-prime mortgage scheme that started the whole house of cards falling in the US. However, they see that homelessness, poverty and hunger go hand in hand and see no contradiction in their previous stated aim and what they did yesterday.

There’s never any attempt to do things surreptitiously as they are all wearing t-shirts saying who they are and what their aim is. It seems the only growth industry in the country is that which produces t-shirts with slogans against the rich and powerful. Some of those present were arrested and they will face the courts on Wednesday of this week but they have already planned a press conference and demonstration before they enter the courtroom.

A couple of thoughts come to mind following this latest event. The first is that some employees of the supermarkets are still putting themselves forward as defenders of their company, its shareholders and their millionaire owners. In my first post about these events I made reference to an open letter sent by an activist to the woman who was so upset about the supermarket raid in Andalusia.

Secondly, I have been told by a number of people I’ve spoken to here in Catalonia over the last few weeks that this region is one of the richest in Spain and, in fact, gives more to the Spanish state than it receives. If this is true (and I don’t have the figures to hand to say one way or the other) then why are the people of Catalonia allowing their own citizens to fall into such a desperate economic situation that they feel they have to take food from the groaning shelves of the supermarkets?

The welfare state in Britain has been under attack since the moment it was established and has been chipped away at in the intervening years. However, although some would like to go even further with more cuts in such spending, in theory, at least, people in Britain should never be allowed to get into such desperate straits.

For more information another couple of links.

The first gives a brief break down of events (this time in Catalan) and also a link to Flickr where you can see some photos taken at the time. (Still have yet to work out how to put such a link directly into my posts.)

The second is a link to the blog of the organisation that organised the ‘attack’ on Monday. It’s a bit confusing, I think, but the ‘Los Videos’ link at the top takes you to a page where there are a number of YouTube videos showing what they have been involved in in the past.

See also:

‘Liberating’ basic foodstuffs from supermarkets in Andulasia

Charity is the answer!

‘Liberating’ basic foodstuffs from supermarkets in Andulasia


The more rich the bigger the thief

El que es muy rico

An Andalusian trade union removes trollies of food from 2 supermarkets without paying in order to then provide the basic necessities of life to those unable to afford them. Bankers and others who steal from the public – those who have caused the present crisis – immune from prosecution call for the full force of the law to be used against these ´thieves´. 

Supermarkets are stuffed full of food (they even throw some of it away at the end of the day) but in Spain there is an increasing number of people who go hungry. What to do?

The decision of one trade union in Andalusia, the Sindicato Andaluz de Trajabadores/as (SAT), was to go into two supermarkets, fill a number of trolleys to the brim with basic and everyday necessities and then walk out without paying. This food was then distributed to people who had no money whatsoever to buy such necessities.

SAT members raiding supermarket

Can’t pay, won’t pay

This follows, in a number of ways, the scenario of the play ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’, written by the Italian satirist Dario Fo in the 1970s. Checking some information about this on the internet I see that there are a number of theatre companies around the UK who are, or have been, performing this play as it rings so many bells in the contemporary situation in many European countries.

The attack on the supermarkets happened on Monday 6th August and I don’t know what sort of coverage (if any) this has had in the British press, the Olympics being useful (yet again) to hide any bad news or anything that might be important.

Aznar and Gonzalez

Ex- Prime Ministers feed from the trough

SAT argued that in a society, and at a time, when money was given to bankers and their ilk by the wagon load there was ample justification for their actions.

Not surprisingly the owners of the two supermarkets, Mercadona and Carrefour, did not agree and have been calling for the full force of the law to be used against the individuals directly concerned as well as the trade union. In response the union has begun a campaign for a boycott of Mercadona, being the most vociferous in its call for the use of the courts to defend the sanctity of private property, until they withdraw their claims against the union. It seems the company has a history of illegal and unjustified sackings with accusations of discrimination being upheld in the courts. That would seem to be one of the reasons that that particular supermarket was chosen for the raid.

Mercadona has a history of being a bad employer

Mercadona – the perfect employer?

The last news I’ve seen is that those who’d been arrested have been released but the matter will not rest there. Not to prosecute could lead to copy cat activities throughout the region (if not further afield) but taking them to court could turn them into martyrs. The propaganda war is already on with local people being interviewed who say that such action goes too far but don’t offer any suggestions about what should be done instead. It’s early days yet but will try to keep an eye on developments.

One bit of information I received whilst discussing this matter is the fact that there is (or at least was) a law under Spanish jurisprudence that allows for the hungry to take food, as long as no violence is involved. The fact that the food taken in these supermarket raids could not be classified in any way as luxuries might well mean that this case could fall within the meaning of this law. Being, as we are in the UK, used to ancient laws being resurrected so that the state can exact its revenge against workers (such as the Shrewsbury Three) or brought out to pull the state out of the mess it has got itself into (such as the Pentonville Five in the Dockers’ Strike in 1972 with the mysterious one and only appearance of the Official Solicitor) it’s interesting that a law exists which can be used by workers. Not that we should put any faith in laws introduced by a capitalist state.

In Britain the tendency is to suffer in silence. When people do take the law into their own hands, as some did in different cities throughout the UK this time last year, they were condemned because they stole trainers and TVs and NOT foodstuffs. Would people’s attitudes have been different if all that was looted was the milk, eggs, potatoes, flour and the like used to produce a healthy and substantial meal? Now that would be a real danger to society.

Poster calling for a Boycot of Mercadona.

Boycott Mercadona!

The images in this post depict the general argument of the Union. Who are the real thieves? The ones who steal cooking oil to give to the hungry, or those who seek to increase their already vast fortunes, including ex-Prime Ministers, of both the conservative and so-called socialist breed.

Although in Spanish you can click here for the link for SAT for more information on how things are developing.

See also:

La lucha continua becomes La lluita continua

Workers take over a palace in Andulasia


Charity is the answer!