The children of Marinaleda have the pleasure to tell you about the situation in Andalusia and specifically, Marinaleda. A few days ago, our parents, in an open assembly, agreed to go on hunger strike. We are in solidarity with them. We have been on hunger strike for several days.
Why are we on hunger strike? We are on hunger strike because our parents have already spent six months living on the alms of community employment. In our village people earn not even two hundred pesetas a day, because sometimes they only work two days a month. We live in such poverty that some families have to borrow money from their neighbours, because the shops no longer give them credit. Put yourself in our place and think: is it fair that while some children are on holiday with their parents and families, others don’t know if they will eat that night? Is it fair that while some children have private tutors, others can’t even attend state schools? Is it fair that while some waste large amounts of money on toys and luxuries, others have no shoes to wear and must go barefoot?
We don’t think it is, and that is why we are on hunger strike. That is why we have gone several days without food, and we won’t stop until a solution arrives, because this situation is unbearable. It is even more unbearable in a land as rich as Andalusia.
Friend: the problem in our land is serious, and so we are going to continue fighting alongside out parents. W will continue fighting because the problem is also ours; so please consider and answer these questions. What will become of us? What is our future? Your future, we imagine, is already resolve, but what of ours? Who will resolve ours?
This is not a fairy tale, but a real situation which you will never know . . . We ask you with all our hearts to stop and think, and perhaps you’ll feel anger or pity and you or your parents will us some solution.
Sorry if these words are strong, but our hunger is stronger. Greetings from your friends. Marinaleda.
The children of the small Andalusian village of Marinaleda wrote the above letter to Prince Felipe, son of King Juan Carlos, heir to the Spanish throne, and, at the time, twelve years old.
It was August 1980, five years after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, when 700 residents – men, women and children – of Marinaleda decided to host the ‘hunger strike against hunger’ (una huelga de hambre contra el hambre) for nine days. As one newspaper cartoon put it at the time: “700 on hunger strike in Marinaleda; the rest, just hungry.”
The village initial demand upon launching the hunger strike was for an increase in ‘community employment funds’ (essentially, paid public-works projects for the unemployed). The village was is a truly desperate state by the summer of 1980. In the first seven months of the year they had received an equivalent of 200 pesetas per family per day – less than two euros. Ultimately, the people needed a more radial solution: land redistribution. Their fight had just begun.
This moment in history transformed the village of Marinaleda and frames Dan Hancox’s book The Village Against the World. Since the 1980s, the villagers of Marinaleda, led by the radiacl mayor, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, have rebelled against the triple repression of the state, the monarchy and the church.
In 1985, labourers from Marinaleda and the nearby pueblos of Gilena and Utrera started to occupy the lands of the Duke of Infantado, owner of 17,000 hectares in Andalusia. At the time, unemployment was 65 percent in Marinaleda, while 50 percent of land in Andalusia was owned by just 2 percent of families. The people wanted land reform to change this injustice.
They were requested the state redistribute 1,200 hectares. On this 1,200-hectare estate the only things growing, for mile in every direction, were wheat and sunflowers – it required only three or four caretakers to tend to it. The people were idle and the land was idle: the resolution was obvious.
Eventually in 1991, they were granted the 1,200 hectares and the Duke of Infantado was quietly paid off by the regional government. The people of Marinaleda finally became landlords.
They didn’t rest on their laurels, but continued la lucha throughout the 1990s, campaigning for funds for cultural projects, for housing, or for their brethren across Andalusia: occupying the Bank of Spain, blocking the high-speed AVE trains, breaking into the international airports at Malaga and Seville, occupying the Palace of San Telmo, Canal Sur Radio, and launching yet more hunger strikes, demonstrations and blockades, in the Sierra Sur and in Seville.
These historic victories showcase Marinaleda as an example for fellow communities in Spain and beyond. Villagers of Marinaleda build their own homes with materials supplied by the government, paying a ‘mortgage’ of 15 euros per months. Their is nearly full employment in Marinaleda, as unemployment is less than 5 percent, versus 36 percent in the rest of Andalusia. This is thanks to the olive oil cooperative and vegetable canning factory in the village, both of which pay higher than the national minimum wage.
The village of Marinaleda is a shining light of the possibility of decentralized governance and social enterprise.