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Let’s hear it for the co-operative

Por: | 11 de abril de 2011

As more and more Spanish companies take advantage of new labor legislation making it easier and cheaper to lay workers off, pushing official unemployment figures beyond 20 percent of the workforce, perhaps the time has come for the country’s 4.3 million jobless to think about a more cooperative approach to job creation.

After all, a highly successful model is close to hand.


Based in the Basque town of the same name, the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation (MCC) is the world’s biggest co-op system with more than 85,000 worker-owners employed in 256 companies, and who produce the Orbea bikes that won gold at the Beijing Olympics, along with Fagur fridges, Brandt ovens, Eroski supermarkets, or the forthcoming electric City Car.

The Mondragón model was developed in the 1940s by Roman Catholic priest, Father José María Arizmendi. It started with a school, a credit union, and a shop, all owned by workers who each had an equal share and vote. The three-in-one combination allows the cooperative to rely on its own resources for finance and training.

The worker-owners cannot be fired. Quite the opposite, through regular assemblies, it’s the workforce who hires and fires their managers, as well as deciding strategy and policy. As the worker-owners accumulate resources, they can encourage the formation of new co-ops, indirectly through their bank and directly through their firms, and bring them into the overall structures of MCC governance. This is how they grew from one small shop to 260 enterprises in the past 50 years. Finally, if a worker-owner retires, he or she can 'cash out,' but the share cannot be sold. It is only available for purchase by a new worker-owner at that firm.

This last crucial point was developed by Arizmendi from his studies of Catholic social theory, as well as the works of Karl Marx and the English co-operativist Robert Owen. A worker-owner's ability to sell his or her share to anyone was a flaw in Owen's approach, Arizmendi decided, since it enabled outsiders to buy the more successful coops, turning their workers back into wage-labor, while starving the other less successful co-ops of resources. Under Arizmendi's new approach, only four out of the several hundred MCC coop ventures have failed during the half century since Mondragón began.

What’s more, the workers themselves decide on the income spread between the lowest paid worker and the highest paid manager, which currently averages about 4.5 to one. (Compared with more than 400 to one in the United States and Britain.

And as even the IMF now admits, the extreme gap between rich and poor was a key cause of the global asset bubble and financial crisis, and is highly damaging to the social fabric of democracies.

Not that Mondragón wasn’t hit by the 2009 slump in machine tools, car components, and its other specialist sectors. In response, its cooperatives took pay cuts of up to 20 percent, and drew lotteries to lay off workers for a year, on 80 percent of their pay.

Faced with sharp decline, cities in the US rustbelt have sought help from Mondragón to create co-ops, hoping to emancipate itself from a Wall Street that hollows out companies by draining their cash and shutting down plants.

In late 2008, the MCC and the million-plus-member United Steelworkers (USW) union announced an alliance to develop Mondragon-type manufacturing cooperatives in the United States and Canada.

More than half a century after it was set up, Mondragón is alive and well, and generates 3 percent of industrial output in the Basque region and generates annual sales of E24bn. Almost 60 percent of its heavy production is exported.



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Pues eso. So much for the stupid ethnical homogeneity they are seeking around Brussels...

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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