Monday, May 06, 2013


Since 2007 over 420,000 foreclosures and 220,000 evictions have occured in Spain.  Over 500 eviction notices are delivered every single day.  That's a lot.

CounterFire tells us:

Draconian repossession laws in Spain so disproportionally protected the mortgage lenders that those unfortunate enough to lose their homes were also burdened with a debt for life.3 Until 2011 they allowed banks to take a mere 50% of the value of the property into account when offsetting the debt; this was then reluctantly raised to 60%.4 By the time interests, penalties and legal costs had been taken into account, a great deal of borrowers found themselves both homeless and owing the full cost of their mortgage. Lest we forget, these are the same banks that had accepted hundreds of millions in state subsidies. Between 2002 and 2008 a staggering average of 754,000 new homes were built in Spain every year. It is currently estimated that up to 6 million homes remain vacant.

What are people to do?

Fight back and resist, that's what.

Thus, the Platform for Mortgage Affected People (PAH).  PAH was born back in 2009 in Barcelona to move the struggle from indiviuals trying to save their homes, their lives, to a collective resistance.  ZSpace notes:

One of PAH’s first concerted direct actions was paralysing an eviction in November 2010 in Tarragona, Catalonia, by blocking the entrance to a property where eviction orders were to be served. Luis Martí had lost his job in 2008 and the $550 he received from the government each month since his unemployment insurance ran out wasn’t enough to make ends meet, let alone cover his mortgage payments. Martí, a single father with a then nine-year-old child, said: ‘I see no future because there is no work and the unemployment insurance people receive will come to an end. There will be more and more people in the street without a home.’ The bank foreclosed but was unable to auction off the modest one-storey property, and Martí was left with the news that he would be evicted and owe a $130,000 debt. The attempts by Martí and PAH to negotiate any other alternative with the bank met with no success.

Following Martí’s foreclosure, government officials and a bank representative, escorted by the police, went to deliver the eviction order. But they backed down upon encountering dozens of people blocking the entrance to his home. This has become a key strategy in PAH’s Stop Evictions campaign, which has ramped up with strong support from the indignados (‘the outraged’, as participants in Spain’s mass movement for political change are called). Over 550 evictions have been halted across the country, and banks have been forced to negotiate social rent or to foreclose a home but drop the debt for hundreds of families. Solidarity has also come from other sectors, such as the Assembly of Locksmith Professionals in Pamplona who unanimously decided in December 2012 that they would not change the locks on houses under foreclosure proceedings. They have been joined by fire-fighters in Catalonia and A Coruña, who refuse to assist evictions.

PAH developed a national network of assemblies and used the internet as well to defend those at risk of homelessness, to build a rapid response force to evictions, and just plain stop them in their tracks. 

As the Multitudes are apt to do, once they get started they just keep going.  PAH has moved on to occupations, to providing help  and shelter to those evicted, and the pushing for large scale change - taking on the collective capital and the State. 

CounterFire writes:

 "In 2010 the PAH was among a group of organisations that launched a popular legislative initiative, or ILP, to demand to parliament the regulation of the datio in solutum (in which the house is used as collateral to cancel any outstanding debt), an urgent stop to residential evictions and adequate provision of social housing and affordable rents. These measures have gained the support of over 80% of the population, cutting across all party lines (mortgages are clearly not the preserve of the left).

 The "democratic" Spanish government refused to allow the motion into parliament.  The State went so far as to attack PAH as a nazi like organizations with links to terrorists (ETA).  The nazi/terrorist tactics of PAH were, according to ruling conservative People’s Party (PP) secretary and Castilla-La Mancha premier Dolores de Cospedal the tactic of peaceful pickets of the homes and offices of PP politicos.

 The Prime Minister made similar outrageous statements, GreenLeft reports:

Ada Colau, the national PAH spokesperson, replied to the prime minister in an open letter: “Let’s talk about the escraches. It annoys you that we can come and protest outside your house. I understand. I wouldn’t like it either.

“But if you had ever come to an eviction you would understand that something much more annoying is involved. There are thousands of people living in the streets in this country, indebted, unemployed and with nothing to eat…and all the while surrounded by abundance.

“Thousands of families live in the streets of the European country that has piled up most empty housing. They go hungry in a state that allows tons of food in good condition to be thrown away.

“And you govern that country, for which reason you shouldn’t be surprised if those families knock on your door after having tried in vain to get your attention.

“This absolutely exemplary movement has exhausted all the channels that inadequate Spanish democracy has to offer: for more than four years we have tried to negotiate with financial institutions, we have talked with political parties, social services, local government.

“We have put resources into court cases and, toiling like ants, have collected nearly 1.5 million signatures. But all for nothing, the PP has not moved a millimetre and announces that it will reject the measures proposed in the ILP.”

Hello.  Do you get the impression that these folks aren't done.

Certain  organizations, such as the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) which publishes the World Socialist Web Site have criticzed PAH.  They claim, 

...the failure of the petition is proof of the bankruptcy of the perspective of pressure politics pursued by organisations like the PAH, which became the next port of call for many of the leaders of the Indignados (15M) and Democracia Real YA! The no-politics perspective they imposed on these movements was responsible for their collapse, and they perpetrated a similar exercise on the budding anti-evictions movement. Colau, a veteran of the G8 protest movement, insisted the PAH was as “an independent, apolitical and plural” organization.

In my opinion, they just don't get it.  They can't understand how anything could happen without the leadership of the vanguard party guided by its peculiar understanding of Marx to lead the working class and explain to them what to do.  I get a kick out of such groups criticizing more autonomous groups of working people for failing to immediately overthrow the state and establish a new world.  I get a kick out of it because these "socialists" have such a great record of doing such.  Laugh, chuckle, tears...

The truth is, you know, when these sorts of things start, when autonomous movements of working people begin,  no one can say where they will lead.  Working people can pretty much accomplish anything.  Vanguard parties can never accomplish much of anything worth a damn.  So if the working people of Spain have not, or do not, smash the State, and destroy Capital the day after tomorrow, their chances of getting it done in the future are, at least, a real possibility.  

Meanwhile, in Spain, today, you just sort of have this feeling that all this is leading somewhere interesting.  You just have this feeling...

That brings us to the following post from Open Democracy.

Spain: redefining democracy?

Liz Cooper

The Spanish prefer to describe themselves as picaresque or roguish, but the arrogance of the rich and endemic corruption in post-Franco Spain is changing attitudes.  Liz Cooper says that volcanic change is on the way 

The King of Spain, who happens to hold a position as an honorary President of the World Wildlife Fund, goes off to Africa on an elephant hunt, is caught out by the world’s press, promises not to do it again and apologizes on returning home. In the year 2012.  The following year his younger daughter, Princess Cristina is to be charged with fraud along with her husband Iñaki Urdangarin, both required to answer questions on the corrupt use of their company funds. While the opposition puts on the pressure to change the Constitution so that the Royal Family has to declare its economic interests, a right wing Government in power with an absolute majority suggests that may take some time. The King has meanwhile voluntarily agreed to make the Palace accounts public, at the same time sending his daughter and son-in-law off to Qatar. When the case first came to light, they were sent to Washington. We are told that Iñaki will go off to Qatar in the near future and the Princess is to follow after the end of the school year, presumably in the interests of their children’s education. Very neat.

The arrogance of the rich is astonishing. Is their level of arrogance so high that it never occurs to them that they could be found out?  Or do they assume no one would dare to accuse them of criminal behaviour, whatever the evidence?

After Franco’s 40 years of vicious rule that divided Spain into winners and losers, the Spanish voted for Franco’s choice to head a Constitutional Monarchy:  the grandson of the king ousted by the short lived Second Republic in the early part of the last century. The new King’s role in the transition and his control of the attempted military coup in 1981 were the two acts that gave his reign legitimacy in the eyes of the public.  Recent national surveys however show a steady decline in the preference for a monarchy over a republic. In 1996, 66% preferred a monarchy, in 2011 that figure had dropped to 53%;  in the 18 to 35 age group no preference is shown: 45% opting for a monarchy and 45% for a republic. Last month the Centre for Sociological Investigations (CIS) published a report on the public’s evaluation of the King, the first since 2011: he scored 3.68, a drop of 1.3 points and lost three places in the list of institutions most valued by the citizenry.  Regard for the monarchy is clearly dwindling as the institution loses its mystique and begins to look like any other part of the current establishment.

But arrogance is not just the prerogative of the royal family. The case currently running as a daily backdrop to all political life in Spain is concerned with investigating evidence that suggests that the ruling party the Partido Popular (PP) has for years been financed from secret sources and that illegal payments have been regularly made to PP members as a matter of course, many of whom are reputedly named in the famous Bárcenasgate case. Three ex treasurers of the party are currently under investigation.  Resignations are unlikely: they are less common than the defrocking of priests. The first case where a priest was expelled as a convicted pederast by the Catholic Church in Spain has just recently been reported. The first Government resignation in the face of fraud and corruption is still awaited. The case in Britain where a Member of Parliament resigned after pleading guilty to a speeding offence was received in Spain with utter disbelief.

It is common to describe corruption in Spain as endemic. The Spanish prefer to describe themselves as picaresque, or roguish.  “Lazarillo de Tormes” and “Guzman de Alfarache” are two major works of the 16th and 17th centuries which represent the picaresque in Spanish literature and life.  “Lazarillo” has been a set book at school and is a national favourite. It was published in 1554 by an anonymous author and is the story of a hero of lower class origin and no fixed job who lived by his wits.  These picaresque novels are at times referred to in order to help explain the level of corruption in daily life today.

It looks as if in the 21st century a volcanic change is on the way.  The latest opinion polls show that corruption now preoccupies over 44% of the population whereas only 3 months ago, 17% were said to be concerned.  A survey in February by the “Real Instituto Elcano”, asking about corruption for the first time found that 52% put the issue at the top of their list of concerns.  This is a huge shift. Commentators are talking of the need for a profound change in the society, towards a more civic culture and participative democracy.  The Indignados, the 15 M movement and the Anti-eviction campaign group PAH  are all pointing  in that direction. Attitudes are changing.

Until very recently the relatively frequent case of a company going bankrupt and leaving its shareholders without their savings did not actually reach the hearts and minds of the Spanish. When the banks hit the headlines with frequent and violent evictions of people unable to pay the mortgages they had been encouraged to sign up to, without understanding the abusive repayment terms, protests in solidarity with the victims began to demand attention. The small but horrifying number of suicides in the face of eviction affected many people and generated support for the protests.

The anti-eviction group PAH has been fighting for years against the abusive nature of the laws on eviction where not only are late-payers evicted and the property reclaimed but the ex-tenants continue to owe money to the bank in many cases. Today the PAH is one of the most important protest groups in the country with over  85% of the electorate supporting their claim to housing as a right of the people. They have achieved a very high profile which is beginning to move even parts of the establishment. The Autonomous Government of Andalusia is to introduce a new law to expropriate housing about  to be the subject of evictions by the banks, where the eviction would put the occupants on the street, a plan also supported by more than 85% of the population. The opposition has given the idea total support, but the Government is attempting to squash all such initiatives, suggesting that the move is unconstitutional. A judge has said publicly that the move is legal and fits perfectly into the statute of the Spanish Constitution.  The Government finally passed a new and ineffective law on evictions without the support of the rest of Parliament.

There have been attempts by the Government to criminalize and smear the PAH campaign by comparing them with the Basque terrorist organisation ETA and suggesting that their tactics are reminiscent of Nazi Germany. President Mariano Rajoy has described the movement as “profoundly undemocratic”. Perhaps he should be required to explain his definition of democracy to the people of Spain.

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