Mondragón Cooperative

Let’s take it as a given that the current system of education to workplace to post-work-productive member of society (aka retirement), is unbelievably busted. Those who want to pursue vo-tech careers have very limited options, those who get the four year degree are often times saddled with absurd dept, and prospect of needing to pursue further education to continue to succeed in their career. Then there’s our unrealistic, underfunded retirement situation that is well on its way to bankrupting our country.

Enter the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation, the worlds largest worker run co-operative organization in the Basque region of Spain.

The company was founded in Arrasate, a town in Gipuzkoa known as Mondragón in Spanish. The town had suffered badly in the Spanish Civil War and there was mass unemployment. A young priest, Father José María Arizmendiarrieta, arrived in 1941 and decided to focus on the economic development of the town, settling upon co-operative methods to achieve his goals. Co-operatives and self-help organisations had a long tradition in the Basque Country but had died away after the fascist victory in the Spanish Civil War.

In 1943, Arizmendi set up a democratically-managed Polytechnic School. The school played a key role in the emergence and development of the co-operative movement. In 1956, five young graduates of the school set up the first co-operative enterprise, named ULGOR (now Fagor Electrodomésticos) after their surnames, which during its early years focused on the manufacture of petrol-based heaters and cookers. In 1959, they then set up the Caja Laboral Popular (“People’s Worker Bank”), a credit union that both allowed the co-operative members access to financial services and subsequently provided start-up funds for new co-operative ventures. New co-operative companies started up in the following years, including Fagor Electrónica, Fagor Ederlan and Danobat.

What brought this to mind was the UAW’s recently aqquired big stake in the newly reworked Chrysler  and GM. What would it be like if this country had affordable, democratically managed institutions of banking, education, public utility, healthcare and employment as opposed to corporations concerend only about the bottom line? Organizations where the needs and concerns of the employees were complimentary to the needs of the stockholders because they were one and the same. There would still be competition that would lead to innovation, money would still be a prime motivator, but for once we might actually give a shit about people and long term health of the company as opposed to the short-term profits and shareholder benefits.