A recent weeklong conference in Sonoma, California – The Economics of Peace – featured a day devoted to lectures and workshops on the cooperatives associated with the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation (MCC). This event marks the third occasion in the last six months where representatives from the MCC, located in the Basque region of Spain, appeared in the US. Previously both Cleveland and Detroit hosted discussions with the MCC. While US developers of worker cooperatives have toured the Mondragon complex since the 80’s, these recent visits are noteworthy as first for the MCC.
In each case the MCC representatives were returning a visit from a US group, so we can’t presume that the frequency of visits will be maintained. Nonetheless the increased public exposure to the cooperative enterprises founded over 50 years ago in the city of Mondragon is significant. The raised profile of Mondragon in the US prompts some thoughts of MCC’s role within the worker community. I am hoping that the following comments, from someone with only a tangential relationship to co-op development (I consider myself an activist, not a “developer”) will generate a discussion about the future of worker cooperatives in a world that increasingly shows signs of complete collapse.
But let me begin noting the amazing success of an experiment (the term the MCC uses) begun by a poor parish priest over sixty years ago. Today, the MCC is a complex worth 24 billion dollars and employing 100,000 in 120 enterprises all over the globe. It comprises factories, banks, insurance agencies and a network of retail stores throughout Spain. Globally the MCC invests in industries located all over Europe, Latin America and Asia.
Mondragon obviously is embedded in the global capitalist order. It functions with that reality everyday. Its decisions are based on the proverbial bottom-line. Furthermore, it operates in countries seemingly without concern for the factors many liberals in this country believe should influence investment decisions. Mondragon invests in developing countries to compete on the level of the capitalists. For instance, Mondragon has manufacturing facilities in Mexico so that they can take advantage of NAFTA to import their home appliances into the States.
The critique of globalism can’t escape being applied to Mondragon. Nor can that critique be ignored by those who laud the spectacular growth of the MCC as proof that worker-ownership works!
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