Spain's 'Robin Hood' leads march to protest exploitation of the poor

Politician leads rally to highlight how poor people are exploited

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 September, 2012, 4:45am


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If this was revolution, it was a remarkably calm affair.

When the man sometimes billed as Spain's most dangerous left-wing politician, Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo, led his utopian army of marchers through the baking southern heat into the small town of Albolote, the biggest fuss was among those jostling for photographs beside the charismatic revolutionary.

Riot police stood by, but the 500-odd tired, sweaty marchers simply dropped their banners, flopped under the cool trees of the town's Guaynabo Park and reached for their water bottles.

Gordillo's reputation as a modern-day Robin Hood has grown this summer after a series of "workers' marches" across southern Andalucia saw followers raid food from two supermarkets and hand it to the poor.

Flash occupations of bank branches and an empty luxury country hotel have kept his small Andalucian Workers' Union in the headlines as debate rages about a style of direct action that attracts those seeking radical change to Spain's current diet of soaring unemployment, recession and harsh austerity.

"The right likes to make out that we are a dangerous bunch of criminals, a sort of modern Pancho Villa," Gordillo said. "But that is the same strategy as always. First they criminalise you and then they try to get rid of you."

After more than half a dozen arrests over three decades spent fighting for the rights of landless Andalucian labourers, Gordillo, 60, will not be easily put off his latest crusade.

While the marchers ate and snoozed, staff at the Mercadona supermarket just around the corner were clearly nervous. A guard armed with a baton admitted that security had been beefed up.

Ever since Gordillo's marchers took a dozen trolleys of food from a supermarket in Ecija on August 7, their presence has provoked concern that trouble might break out.

"If they are taking to give to the poor, then I think that is great," said Antonio Martinez, an Albolote pensioner who applauded the marchers as they reached the midpoint of a two-day, 32-kilometre march on Tuesday.

Prosecutors do not seem to agree. Gordillo, who has been mayor of the country town of Marinaleda for the past 33 years and is a deputy in the regional Andalucian parliament, expects to be formally charged.

"I wasn't in the supermarket, but they say I encouraged them," he said. He and seven others reportedly face prison sentences of up to five years.

Gordillo and his lieutenant Diego Canamero insist that the supermarket raids at Ecija and in nearby Arcos were symbolic. The idea had been to highlight how, instead, the rich are now stealing from the poor.

"This is the biggest rip-off in the history of capitalism," said Gordillo. "The banks created huge amounts of private debt which went toxic. Now they are using public money, taken from the poor, to rescue them. That is what the cuts to health and education are about."

Eva Bermudez, a marcher and jobbing farm worker from Marinaleda, said: "I don't understand why other working people have been so rude, or why some shops close. I have heard people call us thieves, bastards and sons of bitches."