27% of Spaniards out of work. But in one town everyone has a job
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Sun May 12 20:07:26 BST 2013
27% of Spaniards are out of work. Yet in one town everyone has a job
Special Report: Marinaleda is run along the lines
of a communist Utopia and boasts collectivised lands
Sunday 12 May 2013
As Spanish unemployment reaches another record
high, the residents of rural Marinaleda could be
forgiven for feeling a little smug.
Marinaleda resodent Simono Fairlimondo
In the small village in deepest Andalusia, the
joblessness remains firmly and almost certainly
uniquely within Spain at zero. With one set of
traffic lights, two bars (one jammed with
football paraphernalia for the First Division
side Seville) and one central avenue lined with
of low terraced houses, Marinaleda looks like
many villages in western Andalusia.
But huge wall murals depicting the destruction of
tanks and weaponry, the binning of Nazi symbols,
and a column of workers marching through the
fields, are far from the usual graffiti found in
such places. Nor do many villages name their
sports hall after Che Guevara, or have oversized
placards of doves of peace dotted on streets
named after left-wing heroes such as Salvador Allende and Pablo Neruda.
Marinaleda is run along the lines of a communist
Utopia and boasts collectivised lands (1,200
previously unused hectares, seized by a mass
land-grab in 1990 from an aristocrats estate)
which offer every villager the opportunity to
work the fields, tending to root crops and olive
groves. In Andalusia, where jobs are currently
being lost at the rate of about 500 a day, any work is good work.
Marinaledas mayor, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo,
has gained national notoriety and has even been
dubbed the Robin Hood of Spain after he and a
group of labourers refused to pay a supermarket
for 10 shopping trolleys filled with food, which
they distributed to the areas food banks,
sparking headlines in countries as far away as Iran.
That was to draw attention to the fact there are
so many people in Spain who have a hard time
getting enough to eat right now, says Mr Sánchez
Gordillo. We wanted to say, in the 21st century
in Spain, this problem exists. Gandhi would have supported it.
But the supermarket raids were just the tip of
the iceberg for Mr Sánchez Gordillo, who has
spent more than 30 years fighting for wealth
redistribution via land occupations, cheap
housing and co-operatives. In Marinaleda, he has
promoted equal wages policies, scrapped the
police force and offered mortgages on previously
state-owned properties, which cannot be sold on
for profit, of just 15 a month.
When asked about the gulf between Spains 27.2
per cent unemployment rate the highest in the
EU and full employment in Marinaleda, the
57-year-old former history teacher and
father-of-three, who works unpaid as mayor, says:
It fills me with hope and desperation, both at the same time.
He says the village is not completely insulated
from the countrys severe unemployment, which is
only part of Spains financial crisis. He cites
the cases of young villagers who had been working
in the construction industry but were forced to
return to Marinaleda after work dried up. But he
says he believes Marinaleda is beating the
recession better than elsewhere, thanks to our co-operatives and industries.
Andalusias history is peppered with occupations
of latifundias huge agricultural estates dating
back to Roman times by landless workers. Mr
Sánchez Gordillo claims these estates make up
about 50 per cent of the regions land, but are
owned by just 2 per cent of Andalusias
population. He says Andalusia is also covered,
now, with dozens of empty industrial estates that
are mute testimony to the unemployment that
blights the region one sits just 12 miles away
from Marinaleda, where the only visible green
shoots belonged to weeds flourishing amid the
patchwork of rusting streetlights, crumbling
service roads and pedestrian crossings leading nowhere.
It is true we form part of a tradition, but
were doing something new here too: were
insisting that natural resources should be at the
service of people, that they have a natural right
to the land, and that land is not something to be
marketed, says Mr Sánchez Gordillo. Food
should not be speculated with either. It is a
basic human right. We also believe in the
[common] sovereignty of [food] as a way of
profoundly changing agriculture in the world, not just one particular place.
He laments that the villages initiatives are not
being adopted elsewhere in the country and even
across the world. And it seems Mr Sánchez
Gordillo may not be alone in seeing Marinaleda as
spearheading a global change towards a peaceful
Utopia as the road signs leading into the
village pronounce. Support for moderate to
hard-left politics is certainly growing in Spain.
The Communist-led coalition to which Mr Sánchez
Gordillos CUT-BAI party belongs, Izquierda Unida
(United Left), netted 15.6 per cent of the
votes in a recent poll, more than double than at the 2011 elections.
With his bushy beard, preference for jeans and
Palestinian scarf (which he says he will only
remove when they have their own state), Mr
Sánchez Gordillo also cultivates a very
different image to the majority of Spains
politicians. A portrait of Che Guevara, rather
than the standard picture of King Juan Carlos,
hangs in pride of place in his mayors office.
Mr Sánchez Gordillo believes Spains deep
recession is the fault of its government.
Unfortunately, this [national] governments
policies have not been directed towards the
peoples problems; they were directed towards the
banks problems, he says. People are more
important than banks, particularly when the
profits are received by a handful of bankers who
have speculated with basic human rights. The
money theyve provided doesnt reach the base of
the social pyramid, which is why the economy is
paralysed. Its the small property holders and
businesses who have been hurt the most. [We have]
six million unemployed and twice that number living in poverty.
However, like Robin Hood, Mr Sánchez Gordillos
politics has seen him fall foul of the law. The
land appropriations he encourages are illegal, as
are the supermarket raids. Imprisoned seven
times, he has reportedly survived two
assassination attempts by right-wing extremists.
Recently he appeared in court over the occupation
last summer of military terrain in the sierras south of Seville.
The right-wing newspaper La Razón has reported
that Mr Sánchez Gordillos government is in debt
to the tune of 2.83m (£2.4m), and also quotes
sources close to the town as saying there are
months of back payments owed to workers in the
co-operatives. Other villagers claim, according
to La Razón, that if you dont go to protest
as happened recently at another land-grab in the
military terrain of Las Turquillas then you
dont get a job. There have been repeated
assertions that Mr Sánchez Gordillo does not
share his power and has not held a full village council meeting for 13 months.
But his policies are clearly popular. He has been
re-elected by massive majorities in each election
since 1979. I wish our mayor was like him, one
woman in her forties from a nearby village said
as she patiently waited for an audience with Mr
Sánchez Gordillo outside his office.
Though his methods are frequently debated in
Spanish media, Mr Sánchez Gordillo (with some
financial support from the regional government)
has been able to offer his village three things
that much of Spain is desperately wanting:
employment, affordable housing, and a greater say
in government. The most important thing weve
done here is to struggle and obtain land through
peaceful means, and to ensure that housing is a
right, not a business, Mr Sánchez Gordillo
concludes. And as a village we work together,
discuss and collaborate together: thats fundamental for any society, too.
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