Thursday, 29 July 2010

Mondragon Co-op Increases Employment 400% in 20 Years

As an indication of the growth of Co-operative Production and Distribution, the above graph shows the spectacular success of the Mondragon Workers' Co-op, based in Spain's Basque Region.

A recent press release on Mondragon's , Technology Center Konik and Onkologikoa-Oncology Institute of Kutxa, to develop new Cancer Treatments, demonstrates the kinds of high-value, new technology areas that Co-ops can develop effectively. If we are to develop effective Consumer Co-ops, Commissioning Health and other Welfare Services from new Worker Owned Public Service Co-ops, these are the kinds of new industries that workers, particularly in high-wage, developed economies, will need to move into, both to protect jobs and wages, but also to ensure that such Co-operative Public Service provision does not suffer the same problem that the NHS and other State Capitalist enterprises suffer - that of being ripped off by the Capitalist Pharmaceutical companies and other suppliers.


Unknown said...

I gather the success of the Mondragon is that it acts as a "league" in which co-ops are externally financed, thus getting over the problems associated with individual worker co-ops.

Given the link-up between the US steelworkers' union and the Mondragon, what chance of such a turn in the UK union movement? I am aware that ASLEF was planning to bid for the East Coast franchise when it expires...

Boffy said...

As I've written previously the relation between Unions and Co-ops has been frought. Trade Unions were set up to bargain within the system. Co-ops, almost whoever sets them up - Mondragon was set up by a priest, others have been set up by the original Capitalist owners also on a religious or moral basis - represent a different kind of system. As Marx says in the Grundrisse Labour is only Labour to the extent it is completely excluded from Capital, Capital is only Capital to the extent it is not Labour. In a producer Co-op the Capital-Labour relation does not exist. It is a new social relation where wage labour does not exist. On that level the role of Trade Unions disappears - though not on other levels - and more specifically the social role of the union bureaucrat as an intermediary between Capital and labour disappears. Its no wonder that the TU Bureaucrats oppose them.

But, also with a TU conscioussness workers are likely to take the same kind of short term attitude, looking at immediate pay and conditions, not the extent to which changed social relations are more important. As Marx points out,when the primary accumulation of industrial capital was occurring, it was common for the Capitalists to have a lower living standard than their workers. That short run discomfort was more than made up for by the consequence of the accumulation, and the secondary accumulation of Surplus Value.

I favour the establishment of TU Rank and File organisations, and of Factory Committees that cut across existing TU structures. If these can create new Co-operative structures to bid for these contracts as they arise good. I see no reason why they should not lever funding from official TU bodies.

I understand the Co-op is getting involved in establishing Acadamies. I favour shools run by Teaching Co-ops, commissioned by local Community Co-ops. The more Rank and file union groups get involved in these ventures, the more a struggle for wider TU, and Co-op democracy will become inevitable.

Unknown said...

What do you make of employee partnerships of the model of John Lewis? Whilst not in the traditional sense a workers' co-op, the collective indirect share ownership by the workforce means that the labour process is bound to be influenced by the ostensibly democratic structures, no matter how bureaucratised.

The energy services company Eaga was an employee partnership and the employee benefit trust is still the major shareholder but the firm is publicly listed. How would a firm such as this be described in Marxian terms? For although there are external shareholders, it remains predominantly a "labour managed firm".

I'd be interested in your take on my blogpost here:

Boffy said...


Will reply to your blog as soon as possible. On the points raised here. Marx and the First International said they wouldn't make any prescriptions as far as forms, but did set out some guidelines of what they thought was necessary - part of National Federation, large part of profits taken by National Body for investment and so on. They saw the principle of one vote per worker as vital, but they did say that if necessary they could admit some non-workers to provide Capital, and to be paid a small amount of interest.

As well as my series setting out the arguments in favour of Co-operatives Can Co-operatives Work, I also wrote another series on the Economics Of Co-operation, setting out some of what I think are the important issues that have to be addressed in setting up a succesful co-op sector.

There have been a number of firms like John Lewis that are worker-owned, and yet not Co-ops in the proper sense. The US business products firm, Kalamazoo was another. Often they are firms set up by Quakers, who turn them over or establish worker involvment on a moral/religious basis.

For reasons set out previously I don't know how relevant such firms are. I suppose it depends how much the workers actually become enthusiastic as part of the process. There is nothing "innately" socialist about a Co-op. As Marx says their importance stems from them being the creations of workers. But, as he says, all Co-ops are a contradiction they represent the form of the new society, whilst retaining the basic deficiencies of Capitalism. They are revolutonary to the extent that workers make progress through them in class struggle against Capitalist property, and in so doing transcend those Capitalist limitations. hence the importance of the National Federation not only because it makes it more likely that the Co-op can succeed, but also because it implies a recognition of the danger, and a measure against the individual Co-op simply becoming a Capitalist enterprise owned by workers.

My concern with organisations like John Lewis, as a partnership, is that as far as I understand it, although it implies industrial democracy, it also implies hierarchy, and some get bigger profit shares than others - as oppsoed to just higher wages, which is inevitable. In that respect the same objections apply to them as do to the ideas of industrial demcoracy through "Works Councils" in private firms. The democracy becomes a sham, and merely a means o incorporating workers in their own exploitation.