Marinaleda - where a better world exists
June 15, 2010
Around 100km east of Seville in Spain lies a small town
of 2,700 people called Marinaleda. It's one of many
agriculture-based towns and villages in the province of
Seville, surrounded by mile upon mile of flat,
What makes Marinaleda different, indeed from anywhere
else in Spain and possibly Europe too, is that for the
past 30 years it has been a centre of continuing labour
struggle and a place where a living, developing and
actual form of socialism has emerged.
In the 1970s and '80s, in a struggle for jobs, workers
in Marinaleda were involved in occupations and
expropriations of land from local landowners. They were
led by a charismatic trade unionist called Juan Manuel
Sanchez Gordillo of the Sindicato de Obreros del Campo
(Agricultural Workers' Union).
In 1979 the union activists established the Colectivo
de Unidad de los Trabajadores - Bloque Andaluz de
Izquierdas (Collective for the Unity of Workers -
Andalusian Left Block, or CUT) and stood in the local
elections on a radical socialist platform of
agricultural reform. They were immediately elected and
Sanchez Gordillo became mayor. Since that day the party
has held a majority on the local council.
In 1986 CUT became part of Izquierda Unida (United
Left, or IU), the main political grouping of socialist,
communist and green parties in Spain. Marinaleda
Council currently has seven IU councillors and four
from the reformist Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol
(Spanish Socialist Workers' Party).
Sanchez, who typically wears a Palestinian scarf given
to him on a visit to the occupied country, is a history
teacher, mayor, IU member of the Andalusian parliament,
national spokesman of CUT and secretary for housing on
the IU federal executive committee.
Marinaleda hit the news when its workers successfully
expropriated a 3,000-acre estate from the Duke of
Infantado in 1991. El Humoso, as the estate is known,
was turned over to local people and now comprises eight
agricultural co-operatives where the majority of local
people work. The co-operatives concentrate on labour
intensive crop production such as artichokes, peppers,
beans and also wheat and olives. Every worker gets paid
the same wage - O47 for a six-and-a-half-hour working
According to official statistics there are 130
registered unemployed in the town of 2,700, which,
during a time of deep economic crisis and unemployment
in Spain, must be the lowest in the country.
Marinaleda has also developed a unique form of truly
socialist housing provision. In contrast to the rampant
speculation that has ruined the Spanish housing market,
much of the high-quality housing in Marinaleda has been
built on municipal land by local people themselves.
They subsequently become the owners of the houses
paying just O15 a month while contributing an agreed
number of working hours each month to constructing
more. There's a clear agreement that they cannot sell
the houses at any time in the future. The system means
that house owners do not have mortgages and there is no
possibility of financial speculation.
As an example of Marinaleda's socialist principles and
believing that power has to be in the hands of local
people, the local council has created general
assemblies where around 400 to 600 local people meet 25
to 30 times a year to voice their concerns and vote on
issues from festivals, town planning and sport to
ecology and peace. A further example of the council's
form of local democracy is the use of "participatory
budgets" whereby each year the council's proposed
investments and expenditures are taken to local areas
for discussion. On "Red Sundays" local people do
voluntary work in the community.
Another example of the town's radical socialist
policies is that they have disbanded the local police
force, saving O260,000 (#214,000) per year. This must
be unique not only in Spain but also the rest of
On my admittedly brief visit to Marinaleda, the social
and educational provision in the town seem impressive.
There are modern schools, a health centre that is
comprehensively resourced so that people don't have to
travel to get standard treatment, an active
ayuntamiento (council building), a modern and
well-equipped sports centre, home services for the
elderly, a pensioners' centre, a large cultural centre,
a swimming pool, a football stadium and an immaculate
nature park and gardens. Perhaps most impressive is the
town's nursery, which opens from 7am to 4pm and costs
just 12 euros (#9.90) per month per child.
The social provision is outstanding. The town also has
its own radio and television broadcasts, recognising
the need to oppose the mainstream and conservative
media. While providing a wide range of music, chat,
news and cultural programmes, Radio/TV Marinaleda
promotes an alternative ideology based on solidarity,
generosity and collective spirit. Radio and television
are important aspects of the council's policy towards
the diffusion of alternative political philosophies
based on radical socialist thinking and solidarity
activities in support of struggles in Palestine,
Western Sahara and parts of Latin America.
There are streets in the town named after Che Guevara
and Salvador Allende and others named Solidarity,
Fraternity and Hope. Together with many political
murals and graffiti, these all play their part in
raising political consciousness and providing
alternative values to those promoted by capitalism. On
the town's official coat of arms it states: "Marinaleda
- Una Utopia Hacia La Paz" (a utopia towards peace).
One fascinating aspect of the town is that there is
next to no commercial advertising in the streets. The
small local shops have no advertising outside or in
their windows and even the bars have few beer adverts
outside. It might not be a deliberate policy, but it
stands in stark contrast with the rest of Spain.
In an era of rampant global neoliberalism and economic
crisis, Marinaleda and the radical political path it
has followed is a wonderful example of what can be done
when people struggle together to pursue truly radical
The people of Marinaleda deserve the highest praise and
support for what they have achieved over the past 30
years. At a time when cynicism is endemic in politics,
Marinaleda provides a refreshing example of what can
still be done.
Another, better world is indeed possible.
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