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

One o’clock in the morning – La Rambla, Barcelona

The Rambla in Barcelona is considered to be one of the ‘must’ places to visit if you are in the city. Publicity pictures and videos will show you hoards of smiling people, brightly dressed, relaxed as they take in the sun at the same time as they take in all the sights the Rambla has to offer. There are cafés aplenty, the human statues (although they were strangely absent when I was there recently), the smell from the flower stalls half way down, the artists waiting to paint your portrait down at the bottom end. But a different form of tweeting now comes from the part of the Rambla where the bird sellers used to be based, the sale of wild birds having been banned since 2010.

I’ve never thought that walking down this crowded thoroughfare was ever a pleasure. If you don’t look where you are going no one else is going to do so and it is as much fun as walking through a crowded underground station in London at the time of the evening rush hour. It gets busier every year and new technology has made matters worse as it seems even women aren’t able to both talk on a mobile phone and look where they are going at the same time, so what chance men? And there are always the ever-present, always watching, continually vigilant pick-pockets who are sizing up who looks the easiest touch as their next victim.

But some people like the atmosphere and will not be dissuaded from this ritual in a visit to the city, much to the joy of all those whose livelihood, both legal and illegal, depend on the limitless supply of willing victims.

As it gets dark the crowds start to thin out but there are still many people passing up and down this tree-lined avenue. It’s only in the very, very early hours of the morning, when the detritus of the previous day is being cleared away by a small army of street cleaners, that tourists are outnumbered by the locals.

With the change in the light there’s a change in the players. Alcohol becomes a more important component as the night draws on and the atmosphere changes.

Fueled by a few drinks (probably in their hotel room) the only complaint from one member of a small group of Welsh tourists (about 8 of them) that one of the women had stolen a bottle of wine from a small supermarket was that the bottle didn’t have a screw top. The alcohol had made them oblivious to the fact that although in a foreign country there were still likely to be many people who could understand their ‘banter’.

As the hands of the clock indicate that it is now the next day the crowds get thinner, the sellers start to pack up and the piles of rubbish grow at the side of the road. Now there are more groups, both male and female, who have left yet another bar in search of new one, something they’ve been doing since the sun went down. Their sharp wit and clever antics amuse all who are lucky to witness the high level of culture they have brought from their respective countries.

It’s likely they’ve been to one or more of the overpriced, dirty and tacky bars that have appeared in the guide books since I first started visiting Barcelona on a regular basis almost twenty years ago. Unfortunately what was then reasonably priced (or even favourably priced before the introduction of the Euro) is a thing of the past and wherever the extra money has gone it has not been invested in the infrastructure of the bars themselves. Pictures are askew, paper is peeling from the walls and ceilings and the colour scheme was dictated by the nicotine that used to be spread over every surface, static or moving, before the enforcement of the smoking ban.

But if you feel that the wallet has been assaulted by these formal bars yet are still thirsty it’s possible to get a warm beer from informal sellers who stand in the middle of the Rambla, cans of Estrella hanging from the plastic that keeps the cans together before they are wrenched apart with a sale. These sellers might be ‘sin papeles’ (those without a formal right to be in the country) they may not, the economic situation forcing many to look for other ways to make a ‘living’.

Other people with something to sell also come out with the setting of the sun. Some of the streets of the Barrio Chino are lined with women from all parts of Europe and Africa who sell themselves. Whatever they thought when they left their home countries it’s unlikely that this was the trade they would have chosen. As the night gets later they migrate closer to, or even on to, the Rambla. Pimps and minders are never far away and as Dutch courage works on potential clients, and as the thinning crowds make such approaches less intimidating, they start to negotiate the terms and agreements.

Bouncers stand outside empty bars, hardly making them inviting places to enter. How can so many bars exist, even in the best of circumstances? Surely after one o’clock in the morning there are not enough people around to fill them all?

Cans and plastic bottles start to pile up in alcoves seemingly made for the dumping of rubbish. Someone else can pick them up and, so far, the area of the Rambla does appear rubbish free at the start of every day. These may be the workers from the municipality or it could be the scavengers who also appear to be more numerous in the fading light. This doesn’t mean to say that this doesn’t take place during the day time, supermarket trolleys with wonky wheels are ideal for transporting items of no value to some but of potential value to others.

Fresh urine gets added to that which had been matured in the sun of the previous day and there are some streets and alley ways that never seem to be free from the acrid smell, however much the streets might be hosed down.

Of course, all this is not just as a result of tourism and the dependence that many, many cities (and countries) throughout the world have on outside visitors but it doesn’t help. Even in the so-called ‘developed’ countries the negative effects of this business is not so far below the surface.

And as this cycle of events is repeated day after day after day do we really want this to be the sort of future for our young people, either behaving like idiots or pandering to the whims of such.

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=1748bdwTgY8

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.

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;

This 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!