Greeks Also Disrupting Foreclosure Auctions

We pointed to a new front of protests against the banks, namely, efforts in California to obstruct foreclosure auctions. In Greece, they are much more frontal. A translation of how they go about it, from The Greek Streets (hat tip reader Deontos, via Richard Brennman):

The committees ‘I do not Pay’ stopped house auctions at the courthouse on Sep 21 in Athens. They invaded the courthouse where houses confiscated by banks were to be auctioned, with a banner writing ‘No house to end up at the hands of bankers’ and chanting slogans entered the room where auctions were to take place, they made bank lawyers and other scum who went to buy the confiscated houses to leave the room and the judge chairing the auctions had to cancel them.

This video is in Greek, but you can see the group marched into the courtroom and made a nuisance of themselves, drowning out the proceedings:

In the US, I can’t imagine this working. The judge would get a bailiff or cops to haul the demonstrators out. But it serves to highlight an interesting issue. The Greek government is resorting to increasingly draconian measures to collect taxes (attaching them to electricity bill, so you lose your power if you can’t or don’t pay). But a variant has been successful in Iceland. Here, the “Home Defense Team” sought to bar an eviction. And even though it looks like they lost (you can see the police removing the protestors one by one), they allowed the homeowner to remain for a few weeks while a government agency looked into the validity of the debts asserted by the bank.

Ultimately, government relies on the consent of the governed. Even the Soviet Union in its most authoritarian days was able to keep up aggressive suppression and purges up only for a few years. East Germany famously relied on the Stasi, which were effectively citizen enforcers. A broke country like Greece can’t afford the security apparatus to bulldoze its citizenry.

More broadly, the financial elite seems not to have learned a key message that Marriner Eccles conveyed in 1933:

It is utterly impossible, as this country has demonstrated again and again, for the rich to save as much as they have been trying to save, and save anything that is worth saving. They can save idle factories and useless railroad coaches; they can save empty office buildings and closed banks; they can save paper evidences of foreign loans; but as a class they can not save anything that is worth saving, above and beyond the amount that is made profitable by the increase of consumer buying. It is for the interests of the well to do – to protect them from the results of their own folly – that we should take from them a sufficient amount of their surplus to enable consumers to consume and business to operate at a profit. This is not “soaking the rich”; it is saving the rich. Incidentally, it is the only way to assure them the serenity and security which they do not have at the present moment.

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  1. Alfredo

    Here in Spain, one of the groups born out of the recent protest movement is called Stop Desahucio and they have successfully been protesting/stopping/delaying evictions/foreclosures. The group uses Twitter and Facebook to mobilize and usually gets large groups to show up and prevent action from being taken. Plenty of videos of their successes (and some failures)…

  2. toxymoron

    Hi Yves,

    A comment on “The Greek government is resorting to increasingly draconian measures to collect taxes (attaching them to electricity bill, so you lose your power if you can’t or don’t pay)”
    While the Greek government did create a new property tax, they are not able to collect, as nobody knows who owns a given property: Greece does not have a registration office in any form. That’s why they linked it to the electricity bill: if you pay for electricity, you must be an owner, and so pay this tax. If you rent the place, you can just tell the government whom you’re renting from, and again, the owner pays the tax.
    The result is classical Greek: the state-owned electricity utilities went on strike to oppose electricty bills being used for this purpose.
    So this highlights the real problem in Greece: utter impossibility to collect taxes.

  3. SidFinster

    Sure it’s likely a gimmick, but the electricity bill tax wasn’t intended to fix anything, just to buy a little time.

  4. bmeisen

    Wonderful Eccles quote. Thinking of the gated community where Thomas visited with super-rich hosts.

    1. sleeper

      If memory serves the tactic in some rural areas of the US during the depression was to bid 1 penny at auction and return the property to the foreclosed owner. And of course there was a sort of gentle reminder for folks who were not willing to support the community effort.

      Here’s the real problem – the credit system was allowed to trick / coerce / lure folks into loans the as the bubble grew which were designed to fail. This was aided by a PR campaign ” home ownership the American dream” pushed by everyone including prominent politicians who are still in office. ( I have to wonder if anyone has the nerve to air ads with video clips of the pols supporting the market in the coming election. I rather think not.) And we know the rest of the story of the crash or train wreck.
      What is missing is that as is pointed out the failure of any government entity to prosecute major players who engaged in fraud (and by most accounts still are) leaves a blot on the government. In fact it brings into question the validity and of this government.
      And the government is a little scared just take a look at the security measures at the Fed or realize that some agencies are not only monitoring the internet but also trying to “guide” the public opinion.
      Of course in the end the effort will fail but the question is how much damage will happen before the collapse ?

      1. Goin' South

        Zinn recounts these tactics in some detail. Yes, shotguns, rifles and other implements of destruction were quite effective in suppressing other bids.

        And in the city, urban dwellers gathered to prevent evictions as well.

        “Direct action gets satisfaction.”

        1. sleeper

          Although I think I understand the NRA’s position and I certainly support gun rights, I’m certainly not advocating violence or threats of violence.

          That said was the mayor of NYC communicating a threat when he said that the protests were off base because the banks would simply freeze credit ? And remember in some locations communicating a threat is a felony.

          So any legal eagles care to comment ? Or perhaps you, Mr. Mayor, would care to comment ?

  5. Michael Wasserman

    Regarding the Eccles quote, I suspect that many of the super-rich see this time as an opportunity to increase their holdings by acquiring assets from weaker or necessitous players at bargain prices. Although the pie may not be growing — or may even be shrinking — that does not mean that the wealthy are not still getting wealthier. From that perspective, the rich would not feel that they are in need of saving. (Though, of course, if you want to throw them trillions in free money, they will gladly take it.)

  6. KWinIa

    In the quote
    “Ultimately, government relies on the consent of the government.”
    should the second government be “governed”?

  7. Eugene

    Ultimately, the houses are foreclosed upon and evictions are enforced.

    The demonstrators are simply wasting their time. If you wantonly borrowed money, using hopeium as the collateral instead of a reliable and certain income, then you’ll have to either payback the loan the old fashioned way, or give back the property. The process is pretty simple. Don’t take on risk you cannot reliably back stop.

    1. Shankara

      Unless the banks can prove that they have the right to foreclose, which, without the governments of the world stepping in to set things right for their campaign contributors in an illegal fell swoop, is becoming a much more of an impossibility each and every day that passes. The banks are screwed in securitization, officialdom knows it, and they are all holding hands as they walk gently into the quicksand. Good riddance to both.

    2. Binky the Bear

      There is no certainty; nothing is reliable. You may be next, and then where will your snarky holier than though pontifications get you?
      Medical bills. Car accidents. Job offshored. U6 at nearly 17 percent. Don’t think you are immune.

    3. different clue

      This sounds like a fog of apologetics and cover being provided to obscure the culpability of lenders who lent wantonly to people who were too untrained to recognise how slickly they were being lied to by these abusive and predatory lenders. Didn’t Greenspan give a speech about how
      the lending-industrial complex ought to steer people away from fixed rate mortgages and con them into adjustable rate mortgages instead? Just as an example.

      Separately, people who borrowed even at a fixed rate backstopped by a job they had at the time are not entirely blameworthy for not predicting the far-reaching effects of the International Free Trade Conspiracy and its agenda of deliberate mass jobicide throughout industrial America.

      Good thing for me that I am living below my means through such tactics as refusing to own a car or a house. I have a bicycle instead, and I am a member of the co-op where I have a 640 square foot dwelling unit that I dwell in. Perhaps, Eugene, if you could tell me in general (certainly not specifically enough that I could tell what particular company you work for…) what thing or things you
      make or sell or whatever, I will learn how to do without those too, if I am not already doing so.

      1. different clue

        ( But of course, if I HAD “bought” a house based on reliable and certain income, only to have that income taken away from me by the International Free Trade Conspirators; I would sabotage that house on the way out the foreclosure door in ways I described earlier…packing the toilet, bathub, all sinks ( and all relevant drainpipes) with solid concrete pushed all the way down to just legally short of the drainpipes connections to the municipal sewer systems, packing the hot water heater, washer/drier, dishwasher, furnace with concrete in the same way; opening pinhole leaks here and there to foster deadly black mold throughout the house, gallons of diesel oil and atrazine over the whole back yard, etc. etc. In short, I would fix that property so that no one would be able to repair that house or build another for some time to come. Oh . . . I would also “put the word out” that the house is abandonded so come one, come all, and strip out the copper.

        If the System wishes to treat people like “peasants”, some of those “peasants” will go “Balkan Villagers” on the System’s ass.

  8. Spencer Thomas

    That Eccles is something everyone should read and digest. The suicidal nature societies with our level of wealth concentration is perhaps not immediately obvious to many people, but that quote helps state the problem succinctly. When we talk about how FDR saved capitalism, it wasn’t /just/ because he prevented its replacement with other (at the time) more popular alternatives, but because it kept a society where people could actually purchase things (the Henry Ford quote is good here too.) It’s not just about “shared sacrifice”, and it’s not just about “preventing riots” (even though those things are very important.) It’s about making sure that there’s still an “economy.”

  9. Maju

    In Spain some people have begun to physically stop evictions with nonviolent protests, effectively denying legitimacy to capitalist tribunals and their concept of “property”, etc. At least 70 foreclosures have been stopped (plus others in which only time was gained), 35 of them in the region of Murcia, as explained in this video (Spanish language).

    Whatever the effectiveness of all this, it is symptomatic of the huge chasm between the real people and the rulers, in Europe as in America. Or elsewhere: even in Nepal Maoists have begun fighting the Maoist government, which they accuse of betrayal.

  10. Anonymous Jones

    Financial chicanery and fraud are serious problems. Clearly, the banking sector is too large and replete with malefactors.

    That said, as I futilely tried to bring up the other day, knee-jerk condemnation of “foreclosures” is silly.

    These cases are complicated. Sure, many, many of them have a blameless owner who was bilked out of his or her rightful property. Of course, other cases have an “owner” who didn’t put a dollar down and missed all the interest payments. Why is this his “property” now? It’s crazy. Foreclosure is the right result in some cases. There has to be some appreciation for this, or you come off looking like an ideologue bereft of any sense and turning off people who might otherwise be sympathetic to the real problems of fraud and deceit that are out there.

    1. Maju

      How can you say that when in the USA a whole nation-wide network of fraud in mortgages, that should make all or most of them radically null, has been uncovered.

      Then there’s the matter of people who have problems to pay and who should enjoy some social safety net (because it’s better for the economy and society that way) or even are incited by banks to stop making payments.

      But in general it’s a matter of fraud by banks or their agents, undue speculation causing excessive prices in the last three decades and pro-slavery laws that make bankruptcy extremely difficult or even outright impossible.

      As always, there can be the occasional individual who is outside this range but the exception does not make the rule nor really matters in the end, except to try to harm the majority with the pretext of such exception, as you do.

  11. GlibFighter

    “Even the Soviet Union in its most authoritarian days was able to keep up aggressive suppression and purges up only for a few years.” Really?? At best, this is a woeful display of very poor skills in arithmetic and moral myopia.

    1. Nathanael

      Really. Learn your history. It would be more accurate to say “a few years at a time”, since in the USSR the aggressive suppression went in *cycles*, alternating with crowd-pleasing populist actions.

      The fact is, however, that the USSR most of the time kept most of the people fed, housed, and employed. A government can use abusive suppression against a small number of people continuously, or a large number of people for a short period, but not against a large number of people for a long time, and the Bolsheviks knew that very well, having overthrown the Tsar.

  12. WAMU Borrower

    Protests at foreclosure auctions are indeed taking place in the United States. I myself organized one in March 2011 and participated in two such actions on Sept 26 and Sept 28th at the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland, CA. Protests are taking place in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles this week.

    The “investors” and auctioneers are mere extensions of the predatory loan fraud perpetrated on homeowners in this country. Banks are still using robosigners and fraudulent documents to steal people’s home. These individuals have not one iota, compassion, or concern for victims of these banksters and their minions.

    Americans across the land should be protesting every foreclosure auction in the land! Use your freedom of speech and use it wisely.

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