As Spanish unemployment reaches another record high, the residents of rural Marinaleda could be forgiven for feeling a little smug.
In the small village in deepest Andalusia, the joblessness remains firmly – and almost certainly uniquely within Spain – at zero. With one set of traffic lights, two bars (one jammed with football paraphernalia for the First Division side Seville) and one central avenue lined with of low terraced houses, Marinaleda looks like many villages in western Andalusia.
But huge wall murals depicting the destruction of tanks and weaponry, the binning of Nazi symbols, and a column of workers marching through the fields, are far from the usual graffiti found in such places. Nor do many villages name their sports hall after Che Guevara, or have oversized placards of doves of peace dotted on streets named after left-wing heroes such as Salvador Allende and Pablo Neruda.
Marinaleda is run along the lines of a communist Utopia and boasts collectivised lands (1,200 previously unused hectares, seized by a mass land-grab in 1990 from an aristocrat’s estate) which offer every villager the opportunity to work the fields, tending to root crops and olive groves. In Andalusia, where jobs are currently being lost at the rate of about 500 a day, any work is good work.
Marinaleda’s mayor, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, has gained national notoriety and has even been dubbed the “Robin Hood of Spain” after he and a group of labourers refused to pay a supermarket for 10 shopping trolleys filled with food, which they distributed to the area’s food banks, sparking headlines in countries as far away as Iran.
“That was to draw attention to the fact there are so many people in Spain who have a hard time getting enough to eat right now,” says Mr Sánchez Gordillo. “We wanted to say, in the 21st century in Spain, ‘this problem exists’. Gandhi would have supported it.”