The Remains Of José María Arizmendiarrieta
March 3, 2023 2:47 PM   Subscribe

How Mondragón Became The World's Largest Co-op [The New Yorker, Archive link, medium-longish read] tells the tale of a possibility for an alternative to capitalism -- a worker-owned cooperative that extends far beyond an organic grocery store. This one employs 80,000 people and encompasses a multitude of business and educational opportunities that help continuing to build the community.
The growth of the co-ops followed a pattern. An obstacle would confront local workers, and a new co-op would be created to overcome it. When, in 1958, the Spanish Ministry of Labor excluded the new worker-owners from the national social-security system, arguing that they were not eligible for workers’ benefits because they were also part-owners, Arizmendiarrieta created an internal pension and health-care system that was itself organized as a coöperative; it still exists today, supplying sick leave, parental leave, a generous pension, unemployment benefits, and medical insurance to Mondragon’s worker-owners. (The Spanish government has long since revised its position and provides coverage for co-op members, in addition to that offered by Mondragon.) To meet the need for affordable financing, Arizmendiarrieta organized a coöperative bank.
posted by hippybear (15 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry, this is the New Yorker. The post should read "coöperative".
posted by hippybear at 2:48 PM on March 3 [27 favorites]

“When you put workers in charge of firms and you give them substantial control over the firms,” he said, “the one thing you do not get is expansion. You get more for the people who are already there.”

And that's a bad thing? Sounds like the solution to hypercapitalism eating the planet with infinite growth!
posted by Meatbomb at 3:56 PM on March 3 [5 favorites]

Funny, I just learned about this because I'm reading The Ministry For The Future, which has a chapter on it as a sort of "so capitalism why again?" thing. Looking forward to reading a fuller history!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:01 PM on March 3 [6 favorites]

In the SF Bay Area we have a number of cooperative bakeries, each named Arizmendi after José María Arizmendiarrieta.
posted by larrybob at 4:42 PM on March 3 [11 favorites]

Sounds like you get growth wherever a new problem needs solving, rather than a financial arms race for the benefit of the already wealthy
posted by krisjohn at 7:04 PM on March 3 [7 favorites]

Arizmendiarrieta was assigned to the Mondragon valley in 1941 when he was 25.
He found that the area’s economy was deeply impoverished, with virtually no middle class, and that its society had been fractured by civil war. He mobilized citizens to launch civic and cultural initiatives, including a soccer field, a medical clinic, and a housing complex for workers. Since the early twentieth century, a locksmithing factory in Mondragón had been employing local boys, who sometimes started at the age of fourteen, clocked fifty-hour weeks, and had few prospects without further education. Upon arrival, Arizmendiarrieta began using the local Catholic Action center to educate young workers through study circles, which met in a converted seventeenth-century palace. In 1943, Arizmendiarrieta created a technical school; students there worked at the factory in the morning and attended classes in the afternoon. Eventually, he selected a group of promising workers who, in the evenings, began pursuing long-distance degrees in engineering. By 1956, five members who had finished their degrees left their factory jobs to launch a coöperative company that produced kerosene heaters. More industrial co-ops began appearing throughout the valley, drawing workers from the technical school and collaborating with one another to share expertise. Thus was born the Mondragon experiment.

[the story continues from there]
Seems like we need some modern day Ariz's to head into West Virginia and forgotten parts of the Rust Belt and maybe get some new things started. Maybe with a benefactor other than the Catholic Church, but still....
posted by hippybear at 7:42 PM on March 3 [4 favorites]

Thanks for this post, it gives me hope for a coöperative future.

One thing that struck me was the line: "You can’t have coöperatives without coöperative people"

I dunno about everyone else's societies but in mine survival is largely seen as an individual responsibility, and failure to thrive, even in a system that's designed to steal the lion's share of the product of your labor, is seen as practically a moral failing, despite most people acknowledging that employment itself, the very thing necessary for survival, is a rigged game. We're individualistic to the point of suicideality. How do we convert that attitude to one where people beyond someone's immediate family matter to them.
posted by signsofrain at 11:44 PM on March 3 [9 favorites]

This is absolutely beautiful, by the way. Took my breath away, and how I'd love to work in a cooperative, or live in a town where the main form of socialization happens at cooperative culinary clubs.
posted by entropone at 4:54 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]

Funny, I just learned about this because I'm reading The Ministry For The Future

KSR is mildly obsessed with Mondragon, and for good reason! Mondragon cooperatives also play a fairly prominent role in his book 2312 (and I'm pretty sure a couple other of his books).

Mondragon is a really cool organization, but finding english resources on them is semi-difficult. NYT wrote about their pandemic response, which should be noted since they're a cooperative, was decided on by the whole group (or at least a majority; I don't believe they require full consensus).
posted by furnace.heart at 11:04 AM on March 4

Mondragon cooperatives also play a fairly prominent role in his book 2312

Yes, if I remember rightly there are a bunch of space coops called mondragons.
posted by doctornemo at 2:42 PM on March 4

I'm still trying to figure out how this all survived decades of Franco.
posted by doctornemo at 2:42 PM on March 4

This book might be of interest on that point (contains link to full text). Here are some relevant snippets:
Ornelas explains that the Spanish state was not hostile to the Mondragon co-ops because the cooperative form of enterprise, though it questioned the foundations of capitalist economic structure, was compatible with the dominant Francoist ideology regarding the nonexistence of social classes (Ornelas 1980, 79).

Cooperatives and fascist regimes have coexisted elsewhere. The case of Italy is instructive; it shows how cooperatives can be appropriated by and accommodated within a fascist discourse. [...] In 1927 there were 7,131 cooperative businesses, a number that grew to 14,576 in 1942 (Earle 1986, 21-33; Lloyd 1926, 107-11; Sarti 1971, 79-113).


Just as Mussolini accepted and encouraged cooperatives after they had been purged, so, too, in fascist Spain co-ops were favored with legal and economic advantages after the 1942 law linked them to the state-controlled syndicates. In 1954, a law was passed that exempted these businesses from corporate taxes; in 1962 they were granted low-interest loans from the state (Milbrath 1986, 51-66).
posted by Not A Thing at 3:18 PM on March 4 [7 favorites]

Thank you, Not a Thing!
posted by doctornemo at 4:14 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]

So, cooperatives can survive under fascism. This is useful news for anyone looking to start a project in the US!
posted by hippybear at 4:42 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]

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