Worker co-ops (letter)by Barry EadyNews Weekly
, June 19, 2004
Dr Race Matthews states the jury is still out on the replicability of the Mondragon worker co-operatives. (News Weekly
, June 5).
As Dr. Matthews knows, the spectacular economic achievements of this unique example of industrial democracy belie the complex factors contributing to its success. They include the political, religious, and cultural solidarity of the Basque people, together with the endemic unemployment and dire economic need (poverty!) of the people of the region at the time of the genesis of the scheme.
The genius of Fr. Don José Maria Arizmendiarrieta (himself a circumstantial factor) was to develop a formula capable of fusing the existing common factors into a dynamic model of industrial democracy, whilst maintaining a genuine grass roots rather than superimposed movement, albeit accompanied by some heavy coaching.
He chose five intelligent, highly motivated, though unemployed, young leaders to become the first engineering graduates from his trade school and thereafter the foundation members of the first industrial co-operative, and the cornerstones of subsequent co-op development.
Other key elements to success include the meaningful financial contribution (stake) required of every co-op member, which engenders a real sense of ownership and consequent motivation to make it succeed. As Dr Matthews pointed out, the pragmatic priest also knew the importance of education and research and development, as well as the need to have a favourably disposed source of finance, i.e. their own bank. It is difficult to see these exact factors replicated elsewhere.
However, also fundamental to the success of Mondragon was the incorporation of the principles of Catholic social teaching, which are reflected in the Mondragon structure.
These include the dignity of the human person from which proceeds all workers' rights, e.g. the primacy of labour over capital, a just sharing in the fruits of their labours, the right to participate in workplace decisions, ownership of the workplace and so on. Human solidarity and the common good, as well as subsidiarity (the right to control one's affairs at the most immediate practical level) are also examples of these teachings built into Mondragon.
These are universal principles of social justice which can be creatively replicated anywhere, but which are sadly lacking from our system of corporate capitalism at the moment.Barry Eady,