After 500,000 evictions, debtors take on the bailiffs
The Platform for Mortgage Victims is mobilising an army of protesters to change strict Spanish foreclosure laws
Guillem Domingo, a 29-year-old spokesman for the platform, accepts that more cash transactions will boost Spain’s already flourishing black market but insists there is no alternative.
“Look,” he says, “What do they want?” he asks. “An entire society on the streets with no purchasing power, nowhere to live and no hope? A country that doesn’t give its people a second chance is a third-world country.”
The meeting is told of a civil-disobedience action planned for Terrassa’s 12 branches of Caixa Banc. “Take up the entire place in a queue, then each person should take a long time asking for information at the desk, getting change of €10 in five-cent pieces, depositing €2 in their account . . . anything to disrupt their business,” says Marta Muntanyola, a 31-year-old secondary teacher who volunteers with the platform.
The support network developed initially in Barcelona as a natural continuation of the international Occupy, or Indignados, movement and the 15M protests (so-called because nationwide demonstrations for a radical change in Spanish politics began on May 15th, 2011). It grew to its current 160 bases across Spain as the country’s double-dip recession fed the dole queues – the jobless rate is more than 26 per cent overall, and almost 57 per cent among under-25s.
The movement’s demand is threefold: stop all evictions, allow homeowners who can no longer pay their mortgages to hand back the keys and be released from debt, and use the glut of three million empty homes across Spain – a million of them owned by banks – to provide social housing at reasonable rents.
It has picketed politicians’ offices, blocked bailiffs trying to carry out evictions, and organised sit-ins in bank branches, which has on occasion led to the bank’s director agreeing to negotiate with mortgage-holders.
The main face of the movement is spokeswoman and one-time TV series actor Ada Colau.
The campaign says it has had about 730 evictions suspended by the courts and about 712 people rehoused both in individual apartments and in bank-owned apartment buildings taken over by activists.
Those helped by the movement in turn devote their efforts to supporting and advising others, and to attending anti-eviction protests. Everyone works on a voluntary basis.
“Who would have thought even five years ago, when people were still buying apartments and caught up in that world, that this is how we would be spending our evenings,” said Muntanyola after the Terrassa meeting. “People come here with a mix of fear and shame. They eventually see that, collectively, they can take action – sí se puede.”