By Ruth Holtom
A VILLAGE FIGHTS BACK
Andalusia has long been one of Spain’s poorest regions, suffering decades of oppression and neglect under Franco and remaining economically deprived since his death. In the 1980s, fed up with the government’s disregard for the country’s southern rural communities, one Andalusian village decided to fight back. Led by its charismatic mayor Sánchez Gordillo, Marinaleda embarked on ‘la lucha’, the struggle, and after many demonstrations and protests, including a ‘hunger strike against hunger’, the village succeeded in taking power into its own hands. Now, 30 years on, the town is still well and truly in the hands of the people. Gordillo remains the elected mayor, and his vision of a socialist community based on equality and co-operation has meant that the town is governed unlike any other.
MARINALEDA’S CO-OPERATIVE SPIRIT
The village’s decisions do not rest solely on Gordillos’ shoulders; on the contrary, the community holds regular non-hierarchical general assemblies where key decisions are made by all residents. Many marinaleños work at El Humoso, Marinaleda’s own olive producing workers co-operative, which has helped to keep unemployment at 5% whilst surrounding villages can suffer up to 50% unemployment. In Gordillo’s own words, ‘our aim with the co-operative was not to create profit, but to create jobs.’ What’s more, whilst Marinaleda’s governance and work ethic is based on autonomy and self-sustainability, its residents are constantly demonstrating in solidarity for citizens across Andalucia and Spain.
It was with this inspirational story in my head that I arrived in Marinaleda on a sleepy Saturday morning. The first thing that struck me was how clean and well-kept the village was: not a spot of litter; clean white walls; beautiful flowers and trees lining the main street ‘La Avenida de Libertad’. We noticed some interesting street signs – ‘Calle Ernesto Che Guevara’ and ‘Calle Salvador Allende’, and several beautiful political murals. Large white letters above a car park read ‘Otro Mundo es Posible’ – another world is possible – and the village’s flag, green for its rural utopian ideal, red for the workers’ struggle and white for peace, was hanging from several open windows.
Of course, Marinaleda is not perfect. The town has its problems just like any other, not to mention widespread opposition and critics who claim it is under ‘messianic leadership’, where Gordillo ‘intimidates’ anyone who is not on his side. And you can’t help but doubt whether the village’s democratic, co-operative model could really be transferred to larger cities or countries. But I have to say, I find hope in Marinaleda’s inspirational story of how co-operative values can be put into practice for the benefit of an entire community, and especially that this community can stand the test of time and remain true to the values on which it was founded.