Part IV. Notes on a visit to the Mondragon worker-owner cooperative, September 2012

by David and Lila Tresemer (www.MountainSeas.com.au and http://www.DavidandLilaTresemer.com)

We were a bit surprised when we attended the university to discover how little they understood about history, culture and context. Mondragon may face the challenge of being too isolated from world affairs and awareness of global concerns outside their own geography. One of the members of our visiting group said that the first response to this system in the United States would be, “Oh, that’s just Marxist,” with the subtext that it’s communist and will take away your rights and make your life more miserable. Actually, in Mondragon the high value on freedom underpins the whole system – freedom from the whims of overpaid executives at big companies. However, we understood how this knee-jerk reaction of “Marxist!” would occur.

So we asked a student, “How do you respond to criticism that this system of cooperatives is Marxist?”

The student looked puzzled, “Who?”

“Karl Marx,” we said, “social theorist of the 19th century?”

Blank look.

We asked further, “Do they teach about Karl Marx or the philosophy of the relation of labor and capital?” The student shook her head, “Sorry, I haven’t heard of him, and no they don’t.”

Unbelieving that these students hadn’t been prepared to respond to the criticism of “Marxist!,” we asked three more students. Same thing. They had never heard of him, or any of the other philosophers who have wrestled with these questions. They simply thought that the worker-owner cooperative ideology stood on its own.

We realize that one’s philosophy of work has to be governed by your sense of “where is this leading?” It seems that the western ideal pictures a rise to the high echelons of the corporate world, bonuses of stock options and baskets of money – then a private jet, a gated mansion in a gated community likely in the Caribbean, with staff who are not uppity because they come from a poor neighborhood and can easily be replaced. The ideal and goal of Mondragon is to ensure a vibrant and healthy community of human beings putting their efforts into work that provides their families with an adequate income while producing a product useful to other people in the world.

The question: “Is it possible to have a people-focused structure that can be competitive and resilient?” Mondragon answers, “Yes!”

Tours of interested people are now coming from all over the world. Because, no matter what the reactions are – “Marxist!” or “Hidden Capitalist!” – this system creates jobs, maintains jobs, and solidifies whole communities.

We may have gotten some of our facts incorrect, and there are plenty of other facts to learn about their systems. Several managers repeated, “This isn’t paradise, and we’re not perfect,” same words, which suggests that the central group devised this response to criticism. What they have is not paradise, but very hopeful.

More in the last part, Part V.

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About Kitty Kroger

Kitty Kroger is a retired high school teacher of E.S.L. She has published her first novel, "Dancing with Mao and Miguel," which takes place in the 70s and deals with political, social, and personal concerns of that decade. In addition to writing, she is also involved in trying to make the world a better place, concerning herself with issues such as climate change and attacks on refugees and immigrants. She enjoys photography, including street photos (find her work on kittykroger.smugmug.com and Instagram), writes poetry, and plays in a piano ensemble. She also publishes a blog called "Voices of the Sixties and Seventies" (sixtiesandseventiesblog.wordress.com).
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