When I heard about Mondragon, a worker-owned and operated cooperative, I was curious. It seemed like an exotic project somewhere far away that could never happen here. I never imagined actually visiting it. So when I read about Praxis Peace Institute’s guided educational tours to Mondragon, I was enthusiastic.
My main question at the beginning of the tour was not: How can I help develop a coop? Nor was my first impulse to see how it worked. My main question was: Is this a stepping stone along the path to a socialist economy–an economy in which there’s no exploitation and in which workers have a voice in the running of their enterprises? Or maybe it’s actually a variety of socialism that exists within or alongside capitalism? Is it a model for those who would change the world? If so, why hasn’t it spread more widely among the Left? Why have so few people heard of it? Especially since its origins are in the 1940s.
Or are the Mondragon Cooperatives a kinder, gentler version of the same old capitalism that we all know and love?
The answers to my questions surprised and sometimes perplexed me. The trip exposed a glimpse of the complexity of Mondragon. Only a glimpse, because there are so many types of institutions that compose it: banks, training institutes, retail stores, a university, innovation centers, factories, non-governmental organizations.
Now that I’ve been back home for a few weeks, I’m developing some views, which I’ll explore in this blog series. In addition, I want to interview members of worker-run coops in the United States (yes, there are quite a few of that kind of coop around!). Perhaps you yourself will even consider incubating, funding, or forming a worker cooperative in your community. Two advantages—among many—are that they create local jobs and they keep industry and services in the community. Worthy goals in this economic climate.