Started in the 1970s, Marinaleda has become a symbol of the struggle for land access in Andalusia. Over the years, it has also become a reference for alternative ways of governing and using agricultural land for the benefit of the wider community.
The Rural Workers Union of Andalusia
After the end of the dictatorship, the Rural Workers Union (SOC) was officially founded and a local committee was formed in the village of Marinaleda. In 1978, Marinaleda SOC committee occupied a neighbouring estate, which was the first land occupation since the Spanish Civil War. It was violently repressed, and several participants incarcerated.
The land occupation
SOC members from Marinaleda and Mata Redonda, a neighbouring village, continued to mobilize at local and national levels. After years of fruitless mobilisation, they decided to take action against the high unemployment plaguing their villages. They set up farming cooperatives and asked for a public loan to acquire 250 hectares of land. The project aimed to involve 200 unemployed workers and to develop farming, by setting up an irrigation system and starting livestock farming and other production. In 1984, after the loan was refused, SOC members decided to occupy the land . Again, a series of land occupations and other direct interventions took place to demand land expropriation. The occupants faced severe repression and repeated evictions.
Gaining public recognition
Finally, in 1991, the Andalusian government expropriated 1200 hectares of land -the Los Humosos estate, belonging to the Duke of El Infantado- and ceded its use to the workers. The land is now rented, under 15-year renewable tenancy contracts, to seven agricultural workers’ cooperatives, which pay a low annual rent. In recent years, the Andalusian government has decided to sell most of the land it owns, to put an end to aborted land reform measures, and to get new sources of income. Marinaleda’s cooperatives were thus offered land at an advantageous price but they refused, arguing that they only needed secure land use, not ownership.
To go further: read our full case study on Marinaleda land occupation, and other workers’ cooperatives experiences in Andalusia.