Academic journal article Career Planning and Adult Development Journal

Mondragón: Additional Perspectives on Opportunities for Workers in Spain

Academic journal article Career Planning and Adult Development Journal

Mondragón: Additional Perspectives on Opportunities for Workers in Spain

Article excerpt

The information for this article was the product of the authors' participation in a study abroad experience through the University of San Diego School of Education in June 2002. Faculty and graduate students traveled to the Basque region of Spain to visit the Mondragón Corporación Coopertiva (MCC) and to attend a training seminar put on by Otalora, the training institute for the MCC. We spent five days in the Basque town where the first cooperative enterprise was founded in 1956 and where over 100 cooperative member companies employ more than 55,000 worker-owners today. We talked to workers, met with managers, visited with university students, and listened to the experts. We will share past and present information about the MCC and encourage readers to reflect, as we did, on beliefs about work and the worker and on possible applications of this model to your own organizations and to programs for workers.

Cooperatives exist in many forms. The International Cooperative Alliance defines a a cooperative as "an autonomous association of persons (people or businesses) united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise" (National Center for Economic and Security Alternatives, 2002, 1). Cooperatives can be consumer, producer or worker. Many of us are members of consumer cooperatives. Producer cooperatives might be agricultural where farmers pool resources and jointly market what they produce. Mondragon is an example of the third type where worker-owners are actively involved in all areas of the business.

A Historical Perspective on the Basque Region

The Basque region encompasses three provinces located in the North bordering the Atlantic Ocean and France. Tourists visit the region as cruise ship passengers touring Bilbao or college students studying Spanish and enjoying the beaches in San Sebastian. Politically and economically the region is part of Spain and most of the Basque inhabitants, except for older members, speak Spanish. The native language of the region is Euskera, a language unrelated to any other language.

The reader has already received information on the effects on Spain of the Franco regime. During the civil war of 1936-1939 the Basque region chose to fight against Franco and thus the region was treated as the enemy by the government. The government attempted to subjugate the people through cultural repression including eliminating use of Euskera, the native language. Parents could be fined or legally persecuted if their children were caught using the language in public (Whyte and Whyte, 1991). Some parents tried to keep their families safe by eliminating use of the language at home while others made a special attempt to preserve the language and culture with their children. It didn't become legal to speak the language until 1968. During the 50s and 60s, Franco also encouraged immigration into the Basque region from other parts of Spain in an attempt to dilute cultural pride in the region.

The region was geographically isolated from other areas of the country and three major influences in the region during the Franco years contributed to the development of the Mondragon cooperatives. The people of the Basque region were a collaborative culture where interdependence was needed to survive. The labor movement in the region grew out of earlier guilds of craftsmen. The Catholic Church supported the dignity of work and the worker and was active in the development of early consumer, farmer and credit cooperatives.

The Beginnings of the Plan for a Worker Cooperative

Today, it's hard to imagine the bleak state the priest, Don Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta, found the town in when he first arrived in 1941. He found a working-class town of less than 9,000 people with a few upper income families, and a small middle-class of shopkeepers, office workers and professionals (Whyte & Whyte, 1991). …

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