Marinaleda utopian city
This article is not so much about sustainable architecture as much as it approaches a society choice. We decided to cover this story because on top of bringing inputs on the question of housing, it surely tackles the different beliefs many of us have, especially in this very political times.
Marinaleda, a small city of 2748 inhabitants of Andalusia, in the South of Spain, knows hardly any unemployment, homeless people, or violence. Despite this epoch of economical and societal crisis, and in a place where crisis is more than an empty word, the town seems to have developed a pretty successful model, based on mutual support and direct democracy.
Marinaleda – A utopia towards peace
The land for the one who cultivates it
To understand the current situation of Marinaleda and make oneself’s opinion, it is quite important to understand where it comes from.
The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) left Marinaleda deeply injured and starved. A substantial part of the population was left rummaging for olives or acorns and bearing with a strong repression. Like almost all the Spanish countryside, the dictatorship contributed to impoverish the small town. In the late 1970s, the town was struggling with misery and over a 60% unemployment rate.
In 1976, one year after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco, was found in Antequera the Sindicado de Obreros del Campo, the first workers’ union supporting democracy, ecological, anti-fascist, internationalist and anti-capitalist.
Three years later, were organised the first democratic municipal elections after the dictatorship, that celebrated the victory of the newly created nationalist and leftist party Colectivo de Unidad de los Trabajores (9 out of 11 representants). The new municipal team changed street names, taking off names associated to the civil war in the benefit of leftist symbols. The Muñoz Grandes street became the Che Guevara street, the Plaza de España became the Plaza del Pueblo (People’s square), and of course, the Francisco Franco street became the Salvador Allende street.
In 1980, 700 people declared themselves in hunger-strike for 13 days. They reclaimed more income and a regulation of the former Community Employment. After the success of this strike, the action became specifically focused on fighting for fields. Under the slogan “La tierra para quien la trabaja” (The land for the one who cultivates it) they fought against the occupation of the land by aristocratic land owners.
In this context was occupied in 1984 the swamp of Corbobilla for 30 days to ask for the irrigation of the farmhouse el Humoso, so to facilitate its expropriation. The farmhouse represented 1200 ha out of the 17000 ha property of the Duque del Infantado, one of the most powerful Spanish family since the Middle Age. By a Spanish law of 1932, if a farm would be irrigated and obviously not cultivated, part of it could be expropriated with an economical compensation.
Eventually, after years of unrest, the farmhouse became property of the municipality of Marinaleda in 1991, thanks to the mediation with the regional authority. The “Cooperativa Marinaleda S.C.A.” was funded in the next year, creating 400 jobs and thus converted this farm into the economic engine of the town. Nowadays, while the unemployment rate in the Andalusia is 28 percent, it was of 6,5 percent in Dec. 2016 in Marinaleda. Now seeing the pictures, and in 2017, it is unknown to us if the municipality envisions to shift the large traditional agriculture system to a permaculture approach.
A right to dignified housing
One of the town’s biggest concern was for everyone to have a roof over their head. In that sense the municipality’s success is grounded in having being able to organise the distribution of the salaries in a way to avoid real estate speculation and have a fair price for a home. A third of the municipal territory has been acquired through buying or through expropriations. It is important to mention that the municipality receives some help from the regional authorities (Junta de Andalucía) and makes uses of the PER funds (rural employment plan). Marinaleda is not disconnected from more global solidarity systems, and like any other city, benefits from such mechanism.
The programme provides bricks, cement, and necessary material instead of subsidy, as well as land and architectural services. Houses are built by and for the community, as well as professional masons hired by the municipality. Tenants pay a mortgage of 15,52 € a month – 50 cents go to the bank – for 90m2 plus 100m2 outside space, until the approximate 36000€ that the houses cost are paid. In this way, no one accumulates debts or risks eviction.
The kindergarten costs 12€/month, food included, the swimming pool costs 3€/year, internet access is completely free. All this and more public services completes the living standard of the inhabitants of Marinaleda.
Most inhabitants are employed by the farming cooperative and everyone there share the same salary, independently of their position: 1128€ for 35h/week job. The aim of this system is not to make profit but to invest in buying new materials and, even more importantly, in creating new jobs. In this respect, it selects crops that need the most amount of work and next to the olive oil factory, they planted food, like artichokes or beans, that needed to be processed which resulted in the creation of a processing factory and thus more employment.
Democracy and Utopian Communism
All public decisions, related to the cooperative, public spending, buildings etc., are taken collectively in Marinaleda. Around 100 general assemblies are organized per year to discuss issues and every single person has a say. The town knows hardly any crime and in fact does not even have any police officers (or priest, thanks to God, says the veteran mayor Gordillo) or fines. This new model actually goes back to the fundamental values of democracy and sets a good example, that an alternative system based on direct democracy which knows no misery is possible.
Nonetheless, a recent Al Jazeera article seems to spot some dark aspects of the long time in power mayor, revealing blacklisting rumors for employment when the mayor would be openly criticized. They also insist on the apparent difficulty to start an own business, claiming issues when requesting business licenses, and revealing in the words of the mayor, that any entrepreneurship is welcome, “as long as their businesses do not become too large”. The debates this opens complexifies the question of politics and raise fairly the question on how is drawn the line between H&M or Starbucks and a local successful local entrepreneur. Their conclusion leaves voluntary thoughtful, quoting an anonymous shop owner:
“People in Marinaleda generally have a better quality of life than many others in the rest of the country,” she says. “That is, as long as you do not criticise the government and aren’t ambitious.”
We were always curious reading the thousands wonders of Marinaleda, and in a way it is reassuring to see that not all is perfect there, like anywhere. It is nevertheless important to understand the model of Marinaleda in its context, thus our long background introduction. As for today, the Andalucian city remains a strong example that other worlds are possible.
Documentary Marinaleda. El sueño de la tierra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybzS5vbz2f0