Project – Marinaleda, Spain

1989 onwards

Marinaleda is a town in the province of Seville, Spain with a population of 2,700 and has been run as a farming cooperative since 1989. The town became a focal point for the struggle of landless workers in the area under the direction of the mayor Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, who was first elected in 1979 as a representative of the United Workers' Collective. Until the 1980s the majority of land in the region was owned by aristocratic landlords who farmed olives and cotton on a large industrial scale. During the 1970s the area suffered from very high unemployment rates, reaching 75% in Marinaleda, with most of the available work being on farms as seasonal day labourers, a precarious existence that led many families to move away in search of better employment. This situation was addressed in Marinaleda through the formation of a coalition between the council and the local agricultural union, following the election of Gordillo as mayor. Together they aimed at acquiring the land for a farmers' cooperative through a series of direct actions and campaigns, including land occupations and hunger strikes. The eleven year campaign finally ended with surrounding privately owned farm land being sold to the Andalucian government, who eventually handed it over to the town.

Since then Marinaleda has become a model for a co-operatively run settlement consisting of olive groves and a 3,000 acre farm which produces a number of labour intensive crops without the ecologically damaging practices of agri-business. A co-operatively run factory was also established to provide further jobs in the processing of the produce into products such as olive oil.

New housing was built partly with government subsidies and partly by self-building which provided a form of sweat equity in order to achieve the local rents of around €15 a month. Those who apply for a house are given land to build on for free as well as the services of an architect and other specialists, providing they do not own property elsewhere. The town also provides a number of social services, including free home help for the elderly, cheap nurseries and various sporting facilities, including a swimming pool, which are financed through the co-operatively run farm and factories. Overall Marinaleda pays very low taxes to central government since certain services such as rubbish collection and street cleaning are carried out collectively on what are named 'Red Sundays'.

Although Marinaleda is very much associated with the figure of its mayor, it operates a form of direct democracy through organising village assemblies that vote on all matters concerning the management of the town, including a system of participatory budgeting that allows local people to influence council investments and expenditure. Since the early struggle to secure land and the setting up of the farms, factories and basic services, participation in the village assemblies has declined as the new generation finds less reason to join in. Yet, whilst the rest of Spain struggled in the recent housing and economic crisis, Marinaleda has been flourishing, an example of how much can be achieved following the principle of collectively owned land that is co-operatively managed and financed.

References About

Victoria Burnett, 'A Job and No Mortgage for All in a Spanish Town', The New York Times, 26 May 2009, section International / Europe, [accessed 8 March 2010].

---, 'To Capitalist Folly, Town in Spain Offers Reply', The New York Times, 24 April 2009, section International / Europe, [accessed 8 March 2010].

Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination, 'A Utopian Detour', Les Sentiers de l'Utopie | Paths Through Utopia (2007) [accessed 8 March 2010].

'Marinaleda: Account of a self-government experiment in Spain', P2P Foundation, [accessed 8 March 2010].


"Utopia is not just a word or a dream it's a right and through struggle we realise our dreams. Our dream was to end unemployment and we thought that the best way to realise that dream was to have land, and land is not property or a merchandise, it's a right."
- Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, quoted at;

"Since we started running for elections we have always had absolute majority in the council. But we don't believe that power is neutral. When we got absolute majority we decided that power in the hands of the workers should be a counter power. In order for the power to be by the people, for the people and with the people we decided that the most important thing is participation. So we set up a structure so that the general village assembly became the highest decision making body."
- Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, quoted at;


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