Spanish unemployment is rising, but the Independent reports that in Marinaleda, a small village in western Andalusia, its unpaid mayor, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo 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.
1,200 unused hectares, seized in 1990 have been ‘collectivised’ and now offer every villager the opportunity to work the fields, tending to root crops and olive groves.“We’re 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 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.”
The town is part of the movement of a workers union known as the SOC, a Field Workers’ Union founded in 1977, that combines Andalusía’s tradition of anarchy with pacifism and ecological ideals.
To draw attention to the fact there are so many people in Spain who have a hard time getting enough to eat right now , Sánchez Gordillo and a group of labourers refused to pay a supermarket for 10 shopping trolleys filled with food, which they distributed to the area’s food banks, sparking headlines in countries as far away as Iran.
Sanchez says he believes Marinaleda is “beating the recession better than elsewhere, thanks to our co-operatives and industries”.
He also believes that Spain’s deep recession is the fault of its government. “Unfortunately, this [national] government’s policies have not been directed towards the people’s 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 they’ve provided doesn’t reach the base of the social pyramid, which is why the economy is paralysed. It’s the small property holders and businesses who have been hurt the most. [We have] six million unemployed and twice that number living in poverty.”
Despite verbal, legal and physical attacks, 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 Gordillo outside his office.
With some financial support from the regional government, Sanchez has been able to offer his village employment, affordable housing, and a greater say in government. “The most important thing we’ve 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: that’s fundamental for any society, too.”