Monday, May 30, 2011

Marinaleda, The Realistic Utopia

Autonomy against Barbarism
March 23, 2011

Marinaleda is a town and municipio of the province of Seville, (Andalusia, Spain). Since they occupied the estate of a local aristocrat 20 years ago, the inhabitants of this Andalusian village and its fiery mayor, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, have been synonymous with the struggle of Spain’s rural poor.

As the country grapples with soaring unemployment and a real estate bust, this Libertarian Communist enclave, surrounded by sloping olive groves, is attracting fresh interest.“We use a participatory democracy, deciding on everything, from taxes to government spending, in large assemblies. Many people can offer many ideas” says Gkorntigio. “We know that people can work for other values, not only for money.

Drawn by Marinaleda’s housing program and bustling farming cooperative, people from neighboring villages — and from as far afield as Madrid and Barcelona — have come here in search of jobs and homes, villagers and local officials say.
        And while we were fighting for land, for the  industries, for employment, we realized that there were other fundamental rights that had to be obtained. And the first need we detected was the lack of housing.  We also realized that our old people had no place to live after so many years of suffering and Scots, there was no doctor or child care or sports facilities and the streets were unpaved and not without lights at night …
Social Democracy mean access to all welfare without limits for all the inhabitants of our village. We have always believed that freedom is nothing without equality and democracy,without welfare for all, welfare is  an empty word and a deception.
Mr. Sánchez, who  celebrated three decades as mayor of the town of 2,700 (elected mayor), says the crisis in global capitalism vindicates his radical Socialist vision.

“They all thought that the market was God, who made everything work with his invisible hand,” Mr. Sánchez, 53, said last week, seated in his office below a portrait of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. “Before, it was a mortal sin to talk about the government having a role in the economy. Now, we see we have to put the economy at the service of man.”

While the rest of Spain gorged on cheap credit to buy overpriced homes, the people of Marinaleda were building their own houses, mortgage-free, under the town hall’s scheme, Mr. Sánchez said. When a villager loses his job, the cooperative hires him, he said, so nobody in the village wants for work — a bold claim in a region with 21 percent unemployment. The house rent in Marinaleda is 15 euros, and unemployment is 0%!

Vanessa Romero, who moved from Barcelona to Marinaleda in January with her family, said she was drawn by the promise of work and the municipal facilities. In November, she lost her job at a sugar factory and her husband was struggling to find construction work; now they each make about €1,100 a month working for the cooperative, about $1,450.

“If a town like this, with half the resources of other towns, or less, can provide work for people, why can’t other places do the same?” said Ms. Romero, whose parents were born in the village.

After Mr. Sánchez won election in April 1979 as a representative of the United Workers’ Collective, a local farm workers’ organization, Marinaleda became a nucleus of leftist militancy. Over the years, the villagers have occupied farms, picketed government offices and held hunger strikes to demand work and land.
Their most prominent campaign culminated in 1991 with the regional government’s expropriating an estate from a local duke and leasing it to the village. The resulting cooperative, about 12 kilometers, or 6 miles, north of the village, grows labor-intensive crops like artichokes, hot peppers, broccoli and broad beans, as well as wheat.

I wish our mayor would do something like this for us,” said Francisco Pradas from the nearby town of Écija, who was busily picking beans on a recent morning. The farm manager, José Martin, said demand for jobs from other villages had soared recently. “Around Ecija there’s nothing but sunflowers and wheat, crops that don’t need any manpower.”

On the edge of town lies the other jewel in Marinaleda’s Libertarian Communist crown: a colony of neat, three-bedroom houses, built by their occupants on municipal land.

New York Times

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