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February 2012, Week 3

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Tue, 21 Feb 2012 15:43:15 -0500
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Cooperative Success Confounds Liberals, Analysts Alike

By Matthew Martin Staff Reporter
The Exponent (Purdue - West Lafayette,Ind)
February 17, 2012

http://www.purdueexponent.org/campus/article_cea97626-7952-521c-a743-6d798191d245.html


Analysts said it couldn't happen and liberals said it
was too early to come, but the Spanish cooperative of
Mondragon has grown into a global powerhouse.

The Mondragon cooperative of 120 different companies
was the focus of Carl Davidson, a writer and the
national co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence
for Democracy and Socialism, who talked on Thursday to
a sparse audience in Lawson Hall. The speech was
sponsored by the Committee on Peace Studies and the
Latin American and Latino Studies Program.

Mondragon is the largest cooperative in the world. The
cooperative has been successful in a wide array of
businesses including industry, research, and education.

"Think about a platypus. When they discovered them
(Mondragon), it wasn't supposed to exist," Davidson
said.

An unusual aspect of the cooperative is all the workers
are owners of the company. Every worker gets one vote
and a paycheck based on the company's profits rather
than a wage.

"The workers in Mondragon are not normal workers. They
are not wage laborers," Davidson said.

Davidson spoke of how the cooperative has become the
seventh-largest business group in Spain because of the
core principles made by the founder, José María
Arizmendiarrieta Madariaga. Arizmendiarrierta was a
priest who first founded a small credit union that grew
into Mondragon.

Davidson said Mondragon operates on several principles
including application, pay solidarity, and the
soverignty of labor. Davidson said Mondragon has its
own bank to keep money within the cooperative.

"Capital is subservient to labor. That's why the bank
is owned by the cooperative," Davidson said.

Davidson said the workers of Mondragon are paid well
and the differences in pay between an executive and a
janitor are not very broad.

"In Mondragon the average spread is one to nine from
the guy who sweeps the floor to the head honcho. In the
U.S. it would be one to 9,000," Davidson said.

One of the main principles of the cooperative is to
take a three-in-one approach to business said Davidson.
Davidson said the cooperative prides itself on its
factory, school and credit unit aspects. He said it's
possible for companies to become a cooperative but that
they need to accomplish a few goals.

"First, the workers have to want to do it. Second, the
workers have to trust each other. Third, you need a
decent business plan," Davidson said.

Mondragon is working in other countries than Spain.
Mondragon recently made an agreement to work with the
United Steel Workers of the United States but things
are moving slowly. Davidson said several other
cooperatives, such as the Cleveland Evergreen
Cooperatives, were influenced by Mondragon.

"The U.S. is a very easy place to start a co-op and a
very easy place to fail," Davidson said.

Audience members seemed very interested in the idea of
a cooperative. Elena Benedicto, an associate professor
in the College of Liberal Arts, said she thought it was
an interesting idea for workers to own their positions
and jobs.

"Those companies are household names and you would
never expect that they are cooperatives," Benedicto
said.

___________________________________________

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