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In a small town in Spain, Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo, Spanish lawmaker and mayor of Marinaleda, has been on an anti-austerity crusade to combatthe potential of cuts tounemployment benefits, civil service pay and tax increases in light of the countrys mounting budgetary deficit. By strangling the countrys budget, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy could potentially implement a $125 billion bailout for the countrys banking system while privatizing public assets and cutting social services. Spaniards are also up against a 25 percent unemployment rate the highest in Europe.
Enter Sanchez Gordillo.
The mayorhas been a catalystfor an uprising that hopes to prevent the strict austerity measures from taking effect. Sanchez Gordillo recently made headlines for organizing supermarket heists that entailed stealing food from grocers and using it to feed the poor. Activists working with Sanchez Gordillo have faced arrests while the mayor has put his own job on the line.
I have no problem in answering for my actions, Sanchez Gordillohas said. All we did was make a symbolic and peaceful gesture. The crisis has a face and a name. There are many families who cant afford to eat.
Despite potential repercussions, Sanchez Gordillo promised more supermarket raids to come in the future, saying it has become one of the few means that the poor have to stay alive. A warrant for his arrest has been issued after the thefts.
We robbed to give to the poor because the rich are already robbing, the mayor said. This crisis is a great robbery.
Sanchez Gordillo wants to be sure that his cause is more than intercepting loaves of bread at grocers across Spain. Thats why he has rounded up more than 1,000 anti-austerity activists to march across the country to meet with other mayors and legislators with a message of defiance urging them not to comply with austerity measures and new reforms. His message encourages other leaders to halt home evictions, skip their debt payments to Spains federal government, stop layoffs and refuse to comply with local budget reductions.
His message remains on target: Do not bail out the banks when poverty levels in Spain have increased 15 percent since 2007. The mission is heavy in activism, but also attempts to garner acquisitions that could help locals build a sustainable life. In the city of which he is mayor, he has attempted to implement a cooperative farming system that could feed the community, only to run into other obstacles: The government owns the land that could be used for farming. In one such instance, Spains Ministry of Defense owns the 1,200 hectares sought by Sanchez Gordillo for his farming project.
In response, Sanchez Gordillo and members of his activist movement have occupied the farm land for nearly three weeks, saying they will not leave until the political climate in the country improves with the benefits of its citizens in mind.
Despite his political prowess Sanchez Gordillo is also a leader of the Andalucian Workers Syndicate (SAT), an agricultural day laborer union national leaders in Spain such as Alfonso Alonso, spokesman for the Peoples Party in Parliament, are less than enthusiastic about his movement across the country and supermarket antics.
"You can't be Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham," Alonsotold NBC News, "This man is just searching for publicity at the cost of everyone else."
Sanchez Gordillo feels genuine about his cause, however. He noted that any angst he creates will always be far less than what the government of Spain and its banks are doing.
"They say I'm dangerous. And the bankers who are let off for fraud? That's not dangerous? he questioned. The banks which borrow from the ECB for 1 percent then resell that debt to Spaniards for 6 percent ... they're not dangerous?"
Demonstrations in Europe over the potential for harsh austerity measures have produced protests, strikes and outlier figures who people have rallied around to speak for their cause, much like how Sanchez Gordillo became a central figure in Spain. One of the most vocal European countries to instigate backlash against budgetary cuts has been Greece.
During the summer of 2010, and still to a degree today, protesters filled the streets and routine clashes between demonstrators and police forces made headlines. Last summer may have been the pinnacle of protests, as organized movements hit the countrys biggest cities to refute austerity, causing mass injuries to police and protesters and sects of the movement turned into full-fledged riots.
Stories of Greeks marching in the streets all sounded vaguely similar: Their employers had laid off swaths of employees, and those who were lucky enough to keep their job took pay cuts upward of 20 percent.
"We strongly protest against the unfair and harsh policies that have pushed up unemployment, widen false employment and trample on worker rights," said private sector union GSEEduring the protests.
If a single voice had to be tied to the movement in Greece, it would be that of journalist and revolutionary socialist-minded Nikos Loudos. Speaking out against austerity throughout all of Europe, Loudos said that it has been the working class in many European countries who have realized their voices can be heard and their presence felt.
There are hospitals that virtually cannot work now due to cuts. There are university faculties that have shut down because they cannot work ... this happened in the architecture faculty in Athens. There are instances in hospitals where doctors and staff asked people to bring medicine and equipment from their homes, Loudos said in 2011. The same thing is happening in local government. Many local governments around the country are saying that they cannot function, that they cannot collect the garbage. In many ways, it's a picture of generalized destruction.
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