The attack on two supermarkets in Cadíz and Écija (Sevilla) by members of the Andalucian syndicate of workers, the Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadores (SAT), has shocked and un-nerved many throughout Spain, and although widely condemned, and followed by swift police action, has left traders concerned about the possible scenario which could unravel if decisive action is not taken rapidly to stem an underlying wave of dissatisfaction about the economic situation here in Spain.
On Monday two separate groups of militants carried out simultaneous attacks on Mercadona and Carrefour supermarkets, filling trolleys with basic foodstuffs and attempting to leave the store without paying for them: one attack was successful and following a scuffle with in-store security a vehicle was loaded with 9 trolleyloads of food before police arrived, in the second case police arrived before protestors left the store with 20 trolleyloads of food.
The group justified their actions by saying they were taking the food for a soup kitchen which distributed to those in need.
In an extensive piece published on their website they said, " Rescuing people has to be a priority in these times of crisis. To ensure that families don´t lose their homes, give shelter to those who have lost theirs, ensure that no more jobs are lost, prohibit redundancies and the closure of businesses, create plans for public employment, stop giving money to the banks, demand the immediate return of public funds which have been given out and nationalise the banks, lower VAT, increase taxes for the rich, prosecute fiscal fraud, and of course, give free basic foodstuffs to those people who don´t have any. And this, Sr Griñan, is not a barbarity. Barbarity is what you are doing. Barbarity is the capitalist system you are defending so much."
Which all goes a lot further than the stated aim of ensuring the needy have food.
Yesterday the two main ringleaders who lead the attacks were arrested, although the most prominent participant in the attacks remains at liberty due to his status as a parliamentary deputy: Sánchez Gordillo, Mayor of Marinaleda (Sevilla) and IU deputy in the Andalucian Parliament, this giving him a level of protection, although he will receive a judicial citation.
The Andalucian court, the Tribunal Superior de Andalucía, has ordered an investigation be opened into the attacks, and the police have been quoted as saying that more arrests will follow once all the participants have been identified.
Meanwhile, the charity which was to have been the recipient of the food stolen from the supermarket, the ONG Banco de Alimentos, has refused to accept it, stating in the local paper, El Correo de Andalucía , that it would not accept the proceeds of this attack "under any conditions, " due to the "irregularity" of the manner in which they had been obtained.
It is, in fact, illegal for them to accept the food which has been stolen, Article 289 of Chapter XIV of the penal code quite clearly stating that anyone who "helps those responsible for theft to use the proceeds of it, or receives, acquires, or hides such effects, will face a prison sentence of between 6 months and 2 years."
The attacks have been widely condemned, the National Associations of distributors, supermarkets and independent supermarkets expressing their "most profound condemnation of these unjustifiable acts of violence" who also reminded the media of the thousands of kilos of food their members regularly donate to the food banks and the distribution services given free by their members to help the aid associations.
The SAT militants, however, yesterday published a furious attack against the Minister of Interior, Jorge Fernández Díaz, entitled, "Vuelve el framquismo de la mano del PP y de su Ministro de Interior, " : Franquism returns at the hand of the PP and it's Interior Minister, in which they accused the Minister of "obeying to the demands" of the supermarkets in arresting their members and demanding to know why the same standards had not been applied to those running the banks.
This accusation, which showed a swastika superimposed over the PP logo on their website, was given coverage in the financial press.
So where does all this leave us?
Reaction to the attacks has been one of universal condemnation, although predictably there have been voices supporting the ideals of ensuring all have food and some of the social issues caused by the economic downturn are dealt with on a humane level.
However, retailers spoken to yesterday were un-nerved by the prospect of social unrest, which they feel is inevitable given the profound depths of the current economic crisis and the anticipated worsening of the economy in the months to come. No-one is under any illusion that the economy will continue to sink, and rises in unemployment are inevitable once the summer holidays end, temporary summer contracts end and temporary contracts in sectors such as education are not renewed for the new school term. Compounding this will be the necessary and unavoidable redundancies now permitted amongst functionaries and consorcios, which will enable councils and regional authorities to tighten their expenditure further, which they have to do, as well as the increasing numbers of people who will find themselves out of work, and their benefits expired.
The government has no choice other than to act decisively and authoratively in this instance, to quell fears that rioting such as that which received worldwide media coverage in Greece will not occur in Spain, no matter how intense the economic situation becomes, but also have to clamp down on the black economy and ensure that the law is enforced.
Their biggest battle is ensuring that the Spanish people back them, rather than fighting the necessary changes which Spain MUST undergo. Outsiders observing Spain dispassionately understand that the previous government lived in a state of denial for the last 4 years of its tenancy, camouflaging the depths into which the Spanish economy had sunk, and few Spanish had any true understanding of the real economic situation and the underlying issues this was going to create.
And many still don´t understand the seriousness of Spain's situation
It's easy to blame the current government, whose popularity has sunk considerably in the popularity polls since it was elected just a few months ago, but the real culprits are all those who turned a blind eye to corruption, a blind eye to urban abuse and permitted the councils and regional authorities to run up such obscene levels of debt in the first place, as well as the banks who failed to carry out due diligence on the money they so foolishly lent to businesses which should have fallen at the first hurdle of a viability study.
And also the man on the street who continues to feed the black economy by paying people who are not registered legally and paying their taxes, thus ensuring that they effectively strangle their own economy and exacerbate the lack of revenue coming in with which all these essential services can be paid for. Legal employment, and paying taxes is the whole foundation around which democratic society revolves, somebody, somewhere, has to pay for everything, and if taxation didn´t exist the whole system would collapse.
Expats often joke that tax evasion here is a national pastime, and economic surveys into the reasons behind the blasé attitude towards tax evasion is that the rot starts at the top.
For most expats living here, the economic crisis will just wash over their heads, residential urbanisations and fixed UK pensions offering a protective bubble, and although the effects of the downturn are visible all around us, most will suffer little direct impact on their daily lives.
Yes, of course, there is an increase in domestic burglary, basic living costs are increasing, those working here are noting declining revenues, and there is a noticeable downturn in entertainment activities, but the biggest danger to those living here is the falling values of the property market, which whilst it attracts new buyers, creates a highly competitive market for vendors, which drags down sale prices.
The true damage potential is the potential impact on Spain's international reputation, and the irrational fear it could generate amongst those considering Spain for residential tourism or tourism purposes.
That's the bigger game , and we´ve already seen heightened media interest in Spain's economic difficulties, as the vultures circle in expectation of a kill.
The only reaction to this situation can be a firm one.
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