Wednesday, October 09, 2013


Dozens of activists in Madrid occupied a three floor building for six families in need of a place to live in, some who have been previously evicted. The building is a property owned by bad bank SAREB, which receives toxic assets produced by Spanish lenders after the country's property market collapse in 2008.  This is nothing brand new.  Squatters and autonomous militants have been seizing buildings owned by bad banks and big corporate firms and turning them into community centers, and solidarity centers.  

Gala Pin (32) says, sure, the occupations are illegal, but she doesn't much care...especially when such buioldings are turned over to people who have been evicted from their places by banks.   She distinguishes this kind of takeover from typical squatter invasions.  As reported in the Irish Times, she says,

“We are of course influenced by the squatter movement but there are two big differences: we always occupy buildings that belong to banks, or to big firms; and are always trying to negotiate with the owners in order to try to [pay] a social rent.”
“The law says it’s illegal but the platform practises civil disobedience only when there are no more alternatives. This is a tactic, a technique that has been used in the history of humanity for changing laws that were not fair. So maybe it’s illegal – but it doesn’t mean that it’s not legitimate.”

Bolivian-born Marcela Medina (36) lives with her two children, Sarah (5) and Hashim (8) 
in one of these spaces created by the actions of Spanish activists operating under many names and in many different cities and towns.   She explains how she ended up there.  The Irish Times reports:

...she was tricked into signing the debt into her name. Her husband disappeared, Medina was evicted, her apartment was auctioned and she and her two children were left on the street while the bank pursued her for nearly €150,000, half the outstanding debt. 

“It’s like you’re no one when this happens to you. You’re a piece of dirt when you go into the bank and ask for help. They call you and harass you day and night. You can’t live with dignity.”

In some cases the "Platform" has worked out deals with utility companies to retain power and water in occupied buildings, but not always.

There is talk among the residents here of how hooded electricians and plumbers swept into the building and worked rapidly and anonymously to ensure the utility supplies were secure – and then disappeared as quickly.

“It’s not that we’re stealing from our neighbours’ meters or anything,” says Burgues. “It’s from the general supply. The neighbours know this.”

And the "neighbors" are increasingly supportive of all these actions.  The multitudes in Spain have been trying to create some common space in their country for a while now and in many different ways.  These occupations are just one more example of what can be done when working people just decide to bypass the State and just  do it. 

The following report is from Autonomies.

The struggle for a commons: Chronicles from spain
Civil war is the free play between forms-of-life; it is their principle of co-existence.

“War” because in each singular play between forms- of-life, the possibility of a fierce confrontation — the possibility of violence — can never be discounted.  “Civil,” because the confrontation between forms-of-life is not a confrontation between States—those coincidences between a population and a territory — but between parties, in the sense this word had before the advent of the modern State. Because we must be precise from now on, let us say that they confront one another as partisan war machines.  “Civil war” then, because forms-of-life are indifferent to the separations between men from women, political existence from bare life, civilians from military; because to be neutral is to take sides in the free play of forms-of-life; because this play between forms-of-life has no beginning or end that can be declared, its sole end being the physical end of the world that no one would be able to declare; and above all because I know of no body that is not hopelessly carried off into the excessive, the perilous, course of the world.

Tiqqun, Introduction to the Civil War

On the morning of the 3rd of October, some 50 people occupied an apartment building on Cadete Julio Llompart Street of Madrid – now known as edificio ocupado britanny.  The building was appropriated in the context of what has come to be called the Obra Social, a political campaign driven in Madrid by housing assemblies of 15M and nationally by the PAH (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipteca).  Elsewhere in the country, 13 buildings have been taken in Cataluña and 1 in Torrevieja.  This has been paralleled by the Corralas occupation movement of Andalucia.  The PAH alone has been able to house over 700 people.

The scale of movement continues to increase.  And what may seem at first sight but a measure to deal with an urgent housing crisis for thousands of families, takes on a far more significant character when placed with the frame of a challenge to private property, a contestation of State authority, the roots of the movement in autonomous, assembly based networks of power, or counter-power (essentially 15M neighbourhood and PAH assemblies) and the ambition to create autonomous, self-managed forms of human community.  What is at stake here is a revolution, in the end, the only revolution that truly matters, namely, that which radically changes the way we live.

And for each action carried out by the State against occupations, the response has been further occupations.  (On the same 3rd of October, 13 families were evicted from the Corrala Buenaventura in Malaga.  See: Periodismo Humano)  The revolution has become permanent.

With the occupation of the apartment building in Madrid, the movement spreads and intensifies.  From the Asamblea de Vivienda de Madrid, the following communiqué explains the action (a partial translation follows):

Today we liberated the first apartment block in the campaign, Obra Social Madrid.  Six homes in Carabanchel, in Cadete Julio Llompart 7 street.  The block is the property of the SAREB, better known as the Bad Bank.  The SAREB (Sociedade de Activos procedentes de la Reestructuración Bancaria/Company for the Management of Assets proceeding from the Restructuring of the Banking System)*, the Bad Bank, is the way in which the Government pretends to sustain the real-estate bubble, which has provided such generous benefits to the banks, but this time paying them public money.  At the level of the country, this is the 14th apartment block liberated in the campaign of apartment occupations of the Obra Social.  In the next hours, families on the verge of eviction or others that have already lost their homes will be housed here.  We have considered above all, as we always do, the priorities and the urgencies of the hundreds of organized and resisting families of the different housing assemblies and we have taken time working together so that we understand and construct together this housing project.

To liberate this apartment in our city is a necessity, a declaration and a demand.

It is a necessity at the moment in which we find ourselves each week with dozens of families from our assemblies that are already in the streets or who will soon find themselves there.  Neither the administration, nor the banks, offers any dignified or viable solution.

It is a declaration, because we say loud and clear that we will not yield before irresponsible and unjust laws.  We are the only social actor that has been able to confront and provide housing solutions for hundreds of families.

It is a demand, because it expresses our collective decision to recuperate spaces and resources, to give them a social use that has been usurped by savage speculation that has relied upon the complicity, active or passive, of the public authorities.

In spite of the dramatic situation in which millions of persons their right to a home steeped upon, the more than 90,000 purchased by the SAREB with public money are destined for speculation.  That is, to leave them empty until they can be sold at a higher value than that for which they were purchased.  In a country with no public housing to rent, the old public housing is desired for speculation.

To this day, it remains inadmissible that the public administrations have not forced upon financial institutions, especially those saved, a social compensation for the bailout with public money.  While this situation continues, hundreds of thousands of people see their fundamental rights made vulnerable and risk finding themselves in the streets, if they are not already.  From the housing working groups of the assemblies of the neighbourhoods of Madrid, born and encouraged in the of 15M, and the different spaces of struggle for dignified housing, we have over some time responded to the housing crisis provoked principally by banking institutions;  Organising ourselves through horizontal assemblies and responding to the problems posed as neighbours of our communities: this is the true legacy of 15M, this is the labour that we have carried through like little ants since then.  This is but one further display of it: the Asamblea de Vivienda de Madrid has appropriated an apartment block of empty houses, property of the SAREB, in the neighbourhood of Carabanchel, Madrid, and today it makes it public.

By virtue of the campaign of the of the Obra Social, today the right to a home has become reality for six families that had exhausted all possible means to acquire a home.  From the Asamblea de Vivienda de Madrid and the PAHs across the country, we are obliged to intensify the Obra Social, while institutions like the SAREB continue accumulating empty houses, while people remain at risk of being thrown into the streets and the Government continues allowing this to happen.  While the public administration continues to privatise its management and leaving more than 40 families per day in the streets, knowing possessing more than 10,500 empty houses in Madrid, while they to not bring an end to evictions and the increase in the population without means, from the Asamblea de Vivienda de Madrid, we will continue creating from below, in solidarity and mutual aid … Because they are necessary, and not an option.  Together we can.

¡Sí se Puede!
(*The SAREB bank was created under extraordinary legal circumstances arising from the nationalisation of four spanish banks (BFA-BankiaCatalunya BancNGC Banco-Banco Gallego, and Banco de Valencia).  The SAREB was created as a condition for spain receiving EU funds (100 billion Euros) for the salvaging of the country’s banking sector, largely due to the collapse of the real-estate market in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.  The SAREB was created to manage spain’s banks’ toxic assets.  Funded by both private shareholders and public funds (the EU loan), it both adds to spain’s public debt, and subsidises publically the sale of properties that will go to pay off private creditors.  Throughout this period, there have been over 400,000 home evictions orders.)

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