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Late Night: So What Is This Mondragon Thing, Anyway?

Persons who attended the recent Book Salon featuring Richard Wolff’s latest book Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism may have noticed the name “Mondragon” being mentioned a few times. This refers to the Mondragon Collective Corporation, an enterprise that was founded in 1956 in what was then Franco-controlled Fascist Spain and is now one of the largest corporations in Spain.

How did it manage to escape Franco’s ire, he who so notably clamped down hard on any perceived threats to oligarchic capitalism in general and to his rule in particular? Perhaps because it was tucked away in the Basque region, and perhaps because it was the idea of a Catholic priest, Father José María Arizmendiarrieta.

Whatever the reasons, it survived the Franco years unscathed, growing slowly, patiently, and quietly. One of Mondragon’s earliest moves was to create a credit union, Caja Laboral. The Ikerlan research center was created in 1974. The University of Mondragon was established in 1997. All of these institutions work symbiotically and under worker management to further the goals of the corporation.

Even such bastions of capitalist thought as the Financial Times and CBS News have had nice things to say about Mondragon and its model. The worst things that were ever said about Mondragon have come from Noam Chomsky, who in an interview with Laura Flanders criticized it for not going far enough and still is compelled to exploit many of its workers in its subsidary parts. However, Mondragon has since the General Assembly of 2008 been working to convert the subsidiary groups into cooperatives, where the workers both own and run them.

Mondragon has become so successful that the United Steelworkers have adopted it as the model for the reboot of their union co-op enterprises. If the Mondragon model can be made to work around the world, there is hope for humanity.

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