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Published on 3 September 2005
Nevertheless, there are alternatives: the experience of the cooperative of Mondragón
by Hans HARMS
We are in the year 2005 a.C. neo liberalism became the dominating approach all over Europe. Who does not understand yet or does not want to understand the fact that enterprises have to dismiss thousands of workers and employees although they declare record benefits is stamped as dreamer or a complete idiot. But is this really true all over Europe? No, in a remote valley in the deepest Basque country people still believe in the priority of human interest over the capital. Here we find the cooperative of Mondragón. And this is not a small agricultural cooperative, which supplies the surrounding countryside with cheese and milk, but a multinational company, which does not only sell to all continents, but it even produces there.
Founded in the year 1956 by twelve persons, this cooperative has today 70.000 workers all over the world. During the last 12 years the staff nearly trebled. In the valley, where the center of this cooperative is settled (Deba valley) prevails full employment and the GNP is the highest in Spain. Even in the worst years of economical crisis, when the general unemployment rate in Spain was over 20%, nobody was dismissed. However persons were transfered from certain branches of production to others. Thus the cooperative, tradionally a pure industrial one, became a mixed company which is today also established within the service range. For example, the supermarket chain "Eroski” is today one of the most important in Spain and is meanwhile also established in other European countries (France and Germany).
As the cooperative belongs to the people, who work in it, it’s first and most important goal is to create and maintain the jobs but this does not at all exlude the possibility of “outsourcing” of certain production processes.
The Group has its own social security system, its own bank and even its own university. And the differences of salaries between a simple worker and a director are not 1 to several hundreds, as in Europe or even thousands as in the USA, but around 1:6.
The activities of the company are orientated consistently along the interests of the workers and employees, as well as the social and cultural development of the surrounding region; a logical consequence of the fact that these finally determine the priorities within the decision making processes.
"More than a utopia" was the title of the well-known American sociologist William Foot White (street corner society) who studied this phenomenon during several years and which appeared already in 1988 (American title: Making Mondragón). In Germany this alternative success story is however to a large extent unknown. Considering the present debate on capitalism (especially in Germany during the last months) it seems that the time has come to analyze successful alternatives to the dominating neo-liberalism approach.
If you want to know more about this experience: www.mondragon.mcc.es