By Nancy Berlin,
Past director of California Partnership and longtime community organizer
“All of us on know that the capitalist system is not a good idea for society.” You might be thinking I’m recounting a dream I had, or maybe you’re wondering what I’ve been smoking. But in fact I heard this from a banker at Caja Laboral,
the bank created by the Mondragon Cooperatives.
While Spain’s economy is in trouble, with a quarter of the people out of work, the town of Mondragon, tucked in the hills of the Basque Country, has almost no unemployment. That’s because of a 50-plus-year experiment here that has created a consortium of worker-owned cooperatives employing over 80,000 people (mostly in the Basque Country). It has a business management model that clearly puts people as their first priority, and describes capital as an instrument of the people. Great words and theory, but what does this mean in the real world? It means that Mondragon transfers workers between cooperatives instead of laying off workers, and coops loan each other funds when banks can’t. Now that’s worker solidarity!
Is this too good to be true? As a Mondragon Cooperative representative explained, “This is not paradise and we are not angels.” And I can see, for instance, that they have a long way to go on gender equity issues (only 1 in 10 managers are women). But maintaining jobs in this economy is certainly a far cry from what’s going on in my home town of Los Angeles.
Can we create a better world? One man in Mondragon told me, “the most important value is not to create more profits but to create more workers.” Now if we could only hear that from one of the presidential candidates. Okay, maybe I am dreaming….