When Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo led a farm labourer’s raid on a supermarket he was redistributing wealth to the poor. You’d expect nothing less from the mayor of the communist utopia of Marinaleda
Last week, and not for the first time, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo found himself in the Spanish headlines. Dubbed “Robin Hood” by El Pais, Sánchez Gordillo, the mayor of a small town in rural Andalusia, led farm labourers into supermarkets to expropriate basic living supplies: they filled trolleys with pasta, sugar, chickpeas and milk, left without paying, and distributed the loot to local food banks. His reasoning was blunt: “The crisis has a face and a name. There are many families who can’t afford to eat.”
It’s hard to overstate how close to the brink Spain is at the moment. Unemployment is at 25% nationally (higher than Greece), 34% in Andalusia and 53% for 16-to-24-year-olds; miners in Asturias are firing homemade rocket launchers at riot police; repossessions and the collapse of the construction industry have left 800,000 empty homes, and, last May, the 8 million-strong indignados protest movement, a forerunner of Occupy, announced its total lack of faith in parliamentary democracy to solve any of these problems. And this is just the phoney war: last month, the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, announced spending cuts of ¤65bn (£51bn) over the next two years.
In the heart of it all, like Asterix’s village in Gaul implausibly holding out against the Romans, is Sánchez Gordillo’s town, the self-described communist utopia of Marinaleda. With a population of 2,600, the town has virtually full employment, communally owned land and wage equality. Over the past three decades, the townspeople have built 350 family homes with their own hands. Residents pay a “mortgage” of just ¤15