The “Spanish Robin Hood” is just the beginning; Feelgood Friday
Ready to feel good?
Unemployment in Spain right now is 37%, and over 55% among the 16-24. Banks are foreclosing on people right and left, and when this happens in Spain, you still have to pay the bloody mortgage. Suicides by overwhelmed ex-homeowners are becoming common, and in some cases while the bailiffs are coming up the stairs, the homeowners jump off the balcony. The international banking mafia has pushed the Spanish government to pass laws making it even easier to fire employees and pay them less severance when you do it, so unemployment is only increasing, while the masses see the political and economic elites as hopelessly and unapologetically corrupt, in the country with the worst economic inequality in Europe (though still not as bad as the US, apparently).
Feeling good yet? Wait for it.
All these problems are at their worst in the south (a global trend that may seem familiar), which in Spain’s case means Andalucia. I remember beautiful Andaluz mountain towns where not much was going on, and I fear for the people now. But not all of them. Not the ones in Marinaleda.
In the late 1970s, when Spain was roiling after the death of Franco, trying to catch up to a world from which they’d been isolated for 35 years, Marinaleda elected a mayor named Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo. A very different 35 years later and he’s still in office, elected with overwhelming majorities in every election. Why? What has he been doing?
They started with a “hunger strike to end hunger” and multiple occupations of large estates under the slogan “Land for those who work it”, alternating with legal appeals within the system. After twelve years of this, they gained control over a stretch of farmland, and now roughly 2,650 of the 2,748 people in the town are part of a farm co-op on it. They work up to six and a half hours a day and are paid twice Spain’s minimum wage, while all profits from the farm are reinvested to create more jobs. Use the profit/product of the land to help people, instead of enriching the 1%? What an astonishing idea.
From this excellent article in The Guardian: “‘We believe the land should belong to the community that works it, and not in the dead hands of the nobility.’ That’s why the big landowners planted wheat, (Sanchez Gordillo) explained – wheat could be harvested with a machine, overseen by a few labourers; in Marinaleda, crops like artichokes and tomatoes were chosen precisely because they needed lots of labour.”
The crops they chose required “the creation of a processing factory that provided a secondary industry back in the village, and thus more employment. ‘Our aim was not to create profit, but jobs,’ Sánchez Gordillo explained to me. This philosophy runs directly counter to the late-capitalist emphasis on ‘efficiency’ – a word that has been elevated to almost holy status in the neoliberal lexicon, but in reality has become a shameful euphemism for the sacrifice of human dignity at the altar of share prices.
I don’t know about you, but I get a big ol’ ethical boner when I read those paragraphs. Feeling good yet? Want more?
Remember those evictions? Marinaleda bought and expropriated thousands of square meters of land, and now returns it to the people, along with building materials, labor, and architectural plans through public grants. Homeowners pay 15 euro/month for the rest of their lives, and cannot sell their homes (to prevent speculation).
More feelgoodery? Last August, Sanchez Gordillo led supporters into a grocery store, loaded up basic foodstuffs, and took them, without paying, across town to donate to a food bank. “There are families who can’t afford to eat. In the 21st century this is an absolute disgrace. Food is a right, not something with which you speculate.” Of course, if everyone did this, we might have a problem with the people we depend on to transport our food, but the statement, and its willingness to act on behalf of what’s right, are powerful things, a powerful call for higher standards than profit for the few.
The town has no police (and no crime), everyone shares in cleaning and maintaining the community, and they spend the money they save on free internet for all and heavily subsidized childcare. While the neoliberal world decays in entrenched systems of exploitation and corruption, disenfranchised and segregated, apathetic or angry, in Marinaleda co-op members are part of the town’s workings, have a voice, and participate in their community. Private enterprise is absolutely allowed, but exploitative mega-chains are not welcome. Sorry, Walmart, but vete al carajo.
I remember back to the Occupy movement, the indignados in Europe, and all the world’s people who recognize that a system that sucks the blood from the masses to fatten the 1% is not the best we can do, and I can hear the opposition and critics who said “Okay, unfettered rapacious capitalist greed doesn’t work for you, but what do you suggest?” Occupy didn’t seem able to produce a clear alternative, but 108 kilometers from Sevilla, I know where you can find one.