Marinaleda is a municipality in Seville Province, southern Spain, that since the late 1970s has operated under a form of grassroots democracy involving high levels of community control over decision-making, agricultural activity, employment and housing. The highly communitarian basis of its social and economic organisation appears to have insulated residents from some of the worst after-effects of the 2008 financial crisis, particularly in terms of safeguarding livelihoods and homes. It is widely considered a possible model for more collaborative approaches to local government that can inform understanding of interactions between community action and local government.
According to the official history on the municipal website, in 1977 residents of Marinaleda formed a union of agricultural labourers, whose achieved an absolute majority in elections to the local council in 1979, the first democratic elections following the end of the Franco regime. Life under Franco was reported to have been extremely difficult, with indiscriminate repression during the 1940s, widespread hunger during the 1940s and 50s, and emigration of around a third of the population in the face of poverty during the 1960s.
Local action to secure tenure over land then in the hands of large absentee-owner estates escalated following the 1979 election. Over 700 people took part in a hunger strike during 1980, successfully achieving their aims of better pay and stricter regulation of employment law. Subsequently, several occupations of land and infrastructure led to the village being awarded collective rights and provision of irrigation facilities to El Humoso, a 1200-hectare plot of land adjacent to the village, in 1986, with transfer of ownership finally complete in 1991. El Humoso began life as an operational farm in following completion of its irrigation system in 1997. Researchers at the University of Cordoba identified this as part of a wider land reform movement in Andalucia, initiated during the Second Republic (1930-36) but subsequently blocked during the Civil War and Franco era.
Social and Economic Organisation
Marinaleda operates a form of participatory democracy that emphasises equity, inclusion and empowerment, notably in the areas of housing, land management and wage labour. While far from perfect, this has achieved notable successes in terms of provision of decent and affordable homes, and the quality and use of public space. All these areas have shown significant improvement in recent decades, in contrast to marked deterioration in national and regional conditions since 2008.
In response to a serious housing shortage, the municipality has operated a self-build housing scheme since 1981. A new parcel of 20 homes is built in each two-year cycle, at an ongoing cost to each household involved of €15 per month. Residents are provided with materials and the support and supervision of a professional architectural and building team employed by the council, and expected to participate actively in construction. In this way they learn the skills necessary to take care of subsequent maintenance and in some cases for future employment as part of the building team. By 2009, the programme had led to construction of over 300 new houses, representing over ninety per cent of new homes built locally over the period, and was very favourably evaluated by both council officials and the population at large. It has formed part of a wider design that prioritises the physical and social quality of public spaces in the town. Spaces between houses are extensively planted with shade-giving trees and designed to facilitate public gathering, both expressing and enabling the high levels of civic particiption on which the town's democracy rests.
Before El Humoso became operational, unemployment in Marinaleda was estimated at 65 per cent of the working age population, ninety per cent of those being agricultural labourers. Journalistic accounts reports that this has changed dramatically since the community began to work the land on a cooperative basis, emphasising cultivation of labour-intensive crops and secondary processing at two new factories, also owned and run by the community, in order to maximise employment rather than revenues. Proceeds are reinvested in creating new jobs, and workers renumerated at a flat rate equivalent to double the Spanish minimum wage. This is consistent with the cooperative's initial vision of the land as a source of economic sovereignty, in some respects representing continuation of previous approaches to agricultural production and land management not entirely consistent with agroecological methods emphasising crop diversity and landscape heterogeneity. During the post-2008 financial crisis, Marinaleda boasted full employment, though critics have noted that a scarcity of available work and funds meant that in few if any cases was this full-time. Researchers from A Coruña University reported that in 2013 unemployment in Marinaleda was 7 per cent, a fraction of national and regional averages.
- http://www.marinaleda.com/historia.htm. Accessed June 26th 2018.
- Pérez, A.S., Remmers, G.G.A., 1997. A landscape in transition: an historical perspective on a Spanish latifundist farm. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 63, 91–105. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0167-8809(97)00009-1
- López-Bahut, E., Paz-Agras, L., 2015. Bottom-up Process in Marinaleda, Spain: Houses, Public Spaces and Landscape as Spatial Materialisation of Democracy. Presented at the Defining Landscape Democracy. Centre for Landscape Democracy (CLaD), Department of Landscape Architecture and Spatial Planning, Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU)
- Dominguez, J., 2009. Viviendas de autoconstruccixn en Marinaleda (1982-83). La Ciudad Viva 2: 59–60.
- López-Bahut, E. and Paz-Agras, L., 2017. Landscape as the spatial materialisation of democracy in Marinaleda, Spain. In Egoz, S., K. Jørgensen & D. Ruggeri (eds.) Defining Landscape Democracy: A Path to Spatial Justice, pp.178-188. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
- https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/20/marinaleda-spanish-communist-village-utopia. Accessed June 26th 2018
- https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/04/spain-utopia-160418120509828.html. Accessed June 26th 2018.