First a raid on supermarkets, now workers take over a palace of a cousin of the king. It is occupied for a day by workers angry at the extremes within Andalusian society. Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo and his jornaleros (day workers) are rapidly becoming the bête noir of the Spanish establishment.
The momentum has been growing following the raid on 2 supermarkets in Andalusia by the Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajardores/as (SAT) on Monday 6th August.
Following the news locally it has been interesting to see how the government and the judiciary are pursuing the matter. The leader of this present wave of direct action is Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo, an Izquierda Unida (United Left) senator as well as being the long-term mayor of the Andalusian town of Marinaleda. As a senator he is immune from prosecution and there have been calls for him to resign his position in Parliament to show that he is prepared to face the consequences of his actions. He has replied that he is prepared to give up his immunity but why should he give up his seat if he thinks that he is merely representing the people who voted him in in the first place.
Soledad Becerril, a member of the present Conservative ruling party (Partido Popular) was appointed as La Defensora del Pueblo (what would be called a Omsbudsman in the UK) earlier this year. She has come out arguing that the union members who raided the supermarkets did so because the only opposition they knew they would face at the check out desk were women.
Her argument, somewhat bizarrely, is that they did not choose a supermarket where there were men built like heavy weight boxers at the tills for fear of their own physical safety. She has still to indicate where these supermarkets can be found as she indicates, by omission, that this is the norm. Perhaps if you know of such an establishments you could let her know.
Sanchez Gordillo responded by branding her a fascist, as she was selective with the facts in making her accusations. So no love lost there, then.
There must have been images in the newspapers or on the tele making references to one of the women being quite distressed by the events that took her by surprise on that Monday, (I myself have not seen them). And it has to be accepted that it must have been a shock. However, the question to be asked is why, under those circumstances, did she try to stop them when they must have told her that their fight was not with her but with the wealthy in Spanish society and the inequalities they are perpetuating.
It has to be remembered that they were not furtive in their actions. They were not masked or using anything more offensive that a supermarket trolley (although that can be a lethal weapon in the hands of some people I’ve encountered in supermarkets). They even had their pictures taken and these have been widely broadcast. It was, therefore, obviously an open and clear political act.
There’s an open letter (by a Blogger called Pascual Serrano) to the woman who was depicted crying as events unfolded. It’s in Spanish but the gist of his case was why did she feel she had to protect the interests of her employers when they were paying her not much more than minimum wage levels and apart from being multimillionaires in their own right had a reputation for the poor treatment of their employees. Pascual’s argument came down to basically asking her which side was she on, that of the rich or of her own class?
Although the Defensora del Pueblo, Becarrill, maintains she is standing up for the rights of poor working class women it is worth noting that she herself is a Marquesa and stands for, and represented in her political past, the interests of her own class, one that would be challenged if such activity were to spread.
And spread it has.
On Tuesday 21st August a group of 200 people, including Sanchez Gordillo, invaded a palace of a cousin of the king in a place called Hornachuelos, again in Andalusia. This palace was not occupied and is in the process of being converted into a luxury hotel. One of their reasons for choosing this particular location was the fact that workers doing the renovation work have a dispute over payment for their work.
Again this action took place in the full light of day, no violence was involved, the people were happy to have themselves filmed and they even jumped into the swimming pool (the temperatures in Andalusia that day topping 40ºC). Can’t imagine what the water in the pool would have been like if it had not been treated for some time but at those temperatures I suppose they didn’t care.
So it appears the movement is growing. More people becoming confident and not caring about the consequences. And their position will only get stronger as more people are attracted to the cause. Poverty is not something that has just affected Andalusia in the last few years with the present economic crisis. It has always been a low wage economy and there have always been problems caused by the almost feudal manner in which many of the rural workers are treated. Social welfare services are minimal and people are literally without the wherewithal to find money to pay for their next meal.
Some of them, still a small number but seemingly increasing as time goes on, are starting to say that they are not prepared to accept this situation any longer.