In Madrid

Matt Myers

Seventeen members of the Andalusian Workers Union (SAT) have been on hunger strike, camped out in central Madrid, since 16 May. ‘It has weakened us, and people are shaky,’ Juan Pastrana Serrano told me. He's an SAT secretary in Jódar; his daughter is one of the hunger strikers. A movement of rural farm workers founded in 2007, SAT is famous for occupying fallow land, left uncultivated by large landowners, and returning it to the collective use of jornaleros (day labourers). They have also organised Robin Hood style ‘expropriations’ from supermarkets to feed the homeless, unemployed and destitute. Some 574 union members collectively face more than 600 years in jail and €700,000 in fines. The hunger strikers are demanding the release of an SAT spokesman, Andrés Bódalo, imprisoned in March for allegedly assaulting the deputy mayor of Jódar.

Bódalo began working in the fields of Jaén at the age of nine. In December 2015 he ran as a Podemos candidate for parliament, missing out on a seat by 1100 votes. His daughter, who is taking part in the hunger strike, insists that he is innocent of the charges and that his persecution is political. He is a ‘modest, unassuming, good-hearted person’, she told me, not violent or ‘delinquent’ as parts of the Spanish media have alleged. Podemos representatives in Andalusia, who donate most of their salaries to political causes, have offered to support his family while he is in jail.

Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, Pablo Iglesias, the secretary general of Podemos, Alberto Garzón of Izquierda Unida and a host of leading academics, writers and directors in Spain have called for Bódalo’s release. The strikers admit, however, that Podemos’s support has been ‘soft, not very clear, and not what we expected’. Iglesias has not visited them, though he has promised to do what he can for Bódalo if he becomes prime minister after next month’s elections (called because no party won a majority in December, and they have been unable to form a government).

Juan José, the SAT’s spokesperson in Málaga, thinks Podemos is keeping its distance because of the elections: ‘we could be bad for their image … I am sure that if we were not before an election campaign they would be fighting with us like they have always done.’

Teresa Rodríguez, the secretary general of Podemos in Andalusia, did visit the camp, but later confirmed some of the strikers’ suspicions to me. ‘As a party we are afraid of this kind of fight,’ she said. ‘After a hunger strike there is nothing else … We support them but we also want to have a strategy that can get Andrés out of prison, that takes care of the health of the strikers, and that doesn’t allow Pablo to be a target just yet in the election campaign.’

Read more in the London Review of Books

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