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.