In the Mp3 audio of Bill Mollison 1983 PDC (Permaculture Designers Certificate) in Stanley,Tasmania (Geoff Lawton attended) that are available as DVD for sale and on the internet, Bill Mollison talks at length about the Mondragon Cooperative (along with Commonworks etc) as an organisational framework – a natural order of People Care and Fair Share for Earth Care that permaculture projects ought use.
I actually found and listened to these Mp3’s just before we went to Mondragon (such is life!). We really did Build The Road as We Travel (the only book on Mondragon that we saw on tour).
Also, re-reading the Permaculture Designers Manual 1988 he has a couple of references again to Mondragon in the Alternative Nation section towards the end of the book.
DVD of 1983 Bill Mollison PDC Audio in Mp3 - 47 hours
by Bill Mollison
* Yes you can still participate in a Bill Mollison, Permaculture Design Course.
* Featuring 47 hours of the Master of Permaculture.
* Professional recording with accompanying diagrams.
In September of 1983 I had a rare opportunity to spend two weeks at a Permaculture Design Course by Bill Mollison. It occurred to me that not everyone had such an opportunity.
In an attempt to make that course available to everyone I took professional recording equipment with me. Much editing later, I present the enthusiast with an audio set which marks a point in history. A time before Permaculture has become a household word.
– Jeff Nugent, editor.
I have owned a set of these recordings for many years. It is a recording of the design course which I actually attended in 1983. They capture Bill in classic form – full of energy, enthusiasm, and passion. As a Permaculture teacher, designer and consultant, working on numerous projects around the world, I have found them to be an invaluable and endless source of reference information and inspiration.
Management of Cooperative Organisations and Social Economy
The objective or aim of this line is: to study different types of social economy, companies in which a high number of workers play a relevant role in the assets – associations, labour associations, the ESOP’s (Employee Stock Ownership Plans), or other types with financial participation, in order to investigate their internal work dynamics, their management and technological change models, the different legal and financial structures and the psycho-social and the economic consequences, both at the internal and at the community level.
The Mondragón Cooperative Corporation, or MCC, is often considered the most successful example of worker-owned enterprise in the world. Taking its name from the small town in the Basque Country of Spain where it was founded, the MCC’s reach now extends across Spain, Europe and the globe. Its highly integrated network of cooperative businesses competes successfully with conventional corporate rivals both locally and worldwide.
This paper provides a brief introduction to the MCC and is divided into five sections:
1. Current Statistics
2. Historical Development
3. The Current Structure of the MCC
4. The Internal Structure of an MCC firm
5. The Evolving Role of the Bank-the Caja Laboral-and its Entrepreneurial Division
Appendix A. The Dimensions of the Mondragón Cooperative Group
The Permaculture.TV project is part of a permaculture workers-cooperative project. We have taken much inspiration from the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation in the Basque Country in Spain.
Making a Mondragon Permaculture Complex, a conversation with Fred Frendlich
Kirstie & Nicholas had an informal discussion with Professor Fred Freundlich of Mondragon University about the history and state of the worker-cooperative movement, and Mondragon in particular, in reference to our establishing a global permaculture worker cooperative.
We came away from the meeting optimistic that our dreams of developing sustainability projects in a worker-cooperative framework can be realized. The two systems have the potential to be mutually beneficial: permaculture can contribute to the environmental sustainability aspects of Mondragon, and the economic and social sustainability aspects of the Mondragon cooperative can stabilize permaculture in the world (Gaia Permaculture). A permaculture worker-cooperative could research, develop and replicate the permaculture worker cooperative complex and create a truly sustainable future. A Gaia Permaculture Mondragon Cooperative Complex.
THE GIST OF IT
Our hopes for a global permaculture cooperative have been tempered by (1) our concerns that a global worker-cooperative cannot function profitably while embedded in the current global out-sourcing entrepreneurial culture, and by (2) our observations of the dysfunctional hierarchical relationships which predominate at established Permaculture farms in Australia.
Addressing The First Concern
Regarding the first concern, Fred alleviated some of our concerns by explaining the motivation and intentions behind two seemingly soulless acts: rapid non-cooperative expansion of the retailer Eroski and outsourcing of Mondragon’s manufacturing.
The massive consumer retail cooperative Eroski, which has expanded massively as a hypermarket chain by aggressive acquisition, now has thousands of outlets and over 50 000 workers, yet a minority of current Eroski workers are cooperators. This situation arose around the turn of the century when Eroski, faced with competition from the French hypermarket chains, had to choose between getting out of the business, morphing into a niche market, or undergoing radical expansion. Eroski democratically chose radical expansion, with the intention to cooperatise the franchises gradually.
Fred told us of a trio of gung-ho English cooperators who had gone down to an Eroski outlet in the south of Spain, and who were mortified to discover that not only were the workers there not cooperators, they weren’t even aware that Eroski was a cooperative. This was how fast the expansion happened — the signs had been changed on the store, but the newly-acquired workers had yet to be informed as to who had bought their workplace. Finally, after years of attempts to transition, Eroski has determined that it is simply too cumbersome to cooperatise gradually, and in January 2009, the vote was made to cooperatise the entire Eroski network.
In the case of Eroski, the aggressive non-cooperative expansion that seemed in defiance of the human rights ethics fundamental to the Mondragon cooperative philosophy, were a temporary compromise to save the entity and its ethics, a compromise made with the intention of not violating its ethics on the long-term.
Similarly, several of the industrial Mondragon cooperatives have in recent years faced increased pressure from, for example, auto-part buyers (i.e. car manufacturers) to open manufacturing plants in Third World countries, or to lose important contracts. We talked at length with Fred about Mondragon’s globalisation strategy – it now has 70 odd manufacturing plants overseas – none of which are as yet cooperatives. This “multi-localisation” process is covered in JM Luzarraga’s PhD defense presentation. Briefly, the cooperatives are embedded in the global capitalist system, with the result that appliance-making companies like Fagor have found it impossible to compete with companies who are outsourcing. This is not to say that they haven’t tried to come up with ways to cooperatise their outsourced plants, but there are many obstacles, not the least of which is that, in some countries, it’s not merely infeasible to create a cooperative, it’s illegal.
It is heartening to think that the same dynamic as happened with Eroski might happen with the outsourced manufacturing plants, but this is an extensive, expensive, and risky experiment that the Mondragon industrial cooperators are undertaking across the oceans, and they are putting up their own hard-earned money to do it.
Addressing the Second Concern
Regarding the second point, our observations of the dysfunctional hierarchical relationships which predominate at established Permaculture farms in Australia have led us to question how, if the “fair share” ethic can’t be expressed on the small scale, can it be expected to work on a global scale?
Our discussions with Professor Freundlich allowed our optimism to emerge on the “fair share” concern as well, not only because people who were formerly apathetic often become engaged in the cooperative culture, but also because a cooperative framework can become the status quo in a generation or so.
In Mondragon, Fred explained, there are plenty of people who embark on a career in a cooperative not because of the democratic processes of the workplace, but largely because of the excellent job security, pay and general conditions. Then some important event or crisis will arise at the co-op, and the member will become involved in the discussions, will vote at the general assembly, and then be much more engaged in the cooperative processes from that point forward.
Fred told an anecdote about a Canadian cooperator who came to the mythical Mondragon and stopped a young person on the street to ask him: “Do you work in a worker-cooperative?”; “Do you share in profits at the end of the year?”; “Do you get to vote at a general assembly for the board who then select management?”. The answer to all of these, was of course, “Yes.” The Canadian was ecstatic! “Isn’t this fantastic? What a wonderful world of cooperation!” The young Arrasate resident shook his head and said, “No. All the companies around here are like that.” Hence the cooperative framework has become the routine company structure, the cultural status quo.
As we informed Fred that we were researching a global permaculture worker-cooperative, Nick described permaculture as a sustainability framework, developed in Australia, which has been propagated by the use of 72-hour intensive training courses, and asked whether any similar intensive cooperator training course exists at Mondragon. Fred explained that the focus here in Arrasate has traditionally been on vocational training for youth, and on management training for current cooperators, the intimation being that both are long-term educational commitments which emphasize practical training for local residents. If the Mondragon business school does decide to initiate intensive cooperative training courses, we are happy to be the first focus group!
Finally, after we’d chatted for a couple hours, Fred gave us numerous references to people with expertise in our interest areas of media and worker cooperatives, suggested Kirstie might consider taking up her sustainability research here at Mondragon University, and encouraged us to continue our pursuit to develop a network of permaculture worker-cooperatives.
OTHER DISCUSSION POINTS
Mondragon is humane
Fred told us an anecdote, and said that people don’t sit at the dinner table each night and joyfully explain the ever-escalating cooperation, but instead gripe about their work-mates or their crappy supervisors. This is human. But at Mondragon, they have work-place democracy, internal organisatons that can resolve issues in a healthy way; Social Council, General Assembly, a Management Council and so on. At Mondragon they have a cooperative system that more humanely and creatively addresses the problems of work.
Cooperative renewal and extension
Within Mondragon the Cooperative identity is to be revitalised; educating new cooperators that joined for professional reasons and work conditions, and may not be so much cooperative activists. Many of the older cooperative activists are working to extract cooperative patterns from the cooperatives and promote those into other spheres; politics, sport, government etc
WorkerCooperatives.com and New Economy worker-cooperatives
Nicholas asked was there a media and education source for the internet generation regarding about the worker-cooperative movement. He has in mind a mass-multi-media project called WorkerCooperatives.com. Similar to Permaculture.TV, but focussing on the culture and stories of the broader worker-cooperative movement, which is largely industrial and often in an un-sustainable environmental mode.
Nicholas also asked Fred about Mondragon education and industry and open source business models and social media, and asked if there where any run by worker-cooperatives. Fred suggested there might be New Economy worker-cooperatives, but couldn’t think of any of hand. Nicholas explained, that although he knew of an excellent report on Tech Worker Coops funded by the US Freelancers Union, that profiled a number of development and service worker-cooperatives, he knew of not a single worker-cooperative run Facebook, Wikipedia or Firefox type project.
Nicholas also mentioned a recent Wired magazine article on the New New Economy, which has Wired’s New Socialism placing Facebook and Wikipedia on the same spectrum as the 21st Century Socialism of Venezualia, he said that hopefully the ground noise and static has reduced, and that he might be able to collate and make sense of the article and the reponses i.e. some perhaps muddled posts from Lawrence Lessig etc
Nicholas suggested that a website or initiative be created at Mondragon similar to Sustainability.MIT.edu and was interested in meeting and talking to students that would be interested.
21st Century Socialism
Nicholas asked whether there was a huge interest in Mondragon from the countries of Latin America such as Venezualia and Bolivia that are basing their Socialism of the 21st Century or social revolutions on worker and other cooperatives, on a social economy. Fred explained that there had been not as much interest from these nations as might be expected. There where students and visitors, but not huge numbers or big engagements.
We also talked about Basque nationalism and asked was cooperation unique and limited to them. Fred mentioned that if that was true, there would be more cooperatives, in total only 7% of the Basque economy is cooperative. Basque nationalism is clearly a major element of the culture here, the original cooperative activists wanted to create a system that was autonomous from Franco, that was better than a Francoist system. This created a technocratic culture, if they where to be autonomous AND succeed that meant more research and study, more competence and skill, more hard work and discipline. A more highly technical, organised and democratic system.
Democracy at work and in community
The lesson from Mondragon, so far, is that democratic debate is central to the cooperative process, and that although Mondragon operates as a single successful system it is internally very lively and animated with all sorts of discussion… they confront problems front-on, democratically with one person, one vote. All workers own financial and decision making at Mondragon.
This idea happened while having lunch with Mondragon cooperators we where told and interesting story. Within the Mondragon Coop there is a only one primary-industry agricultural worker cooperative. A dairy cooperative. As with most Mondragon cooperative stories, themes where efficiency, excellence, etc… but one statement stood-out.
The Basque are demonstrating that for true sovereignty, sustainability, liberation and permanent culture (and permanent agriculture) a highly organised cooperative social and economic system must create resilience and resistance.
The sovereign body is the 650-member Co-operative Congress, its delegates elected from across the individual co-operatives. The annual general assembly elects a governing council which has day-to-day management responsibility and appoints senior staff. For each individual business, there is also a workplace council, the elected President of which assists the manager with the running of the business on behalf of the workers.
In the 1980s, the various companies responded to pressures of globalisation by joining together as the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation. The MCC is now the Basque Country’s largest corporation, the seventh largest in Spain. It is considered the world’s largest worker co-operative. In 2006 the MCC contributed 3.8% towards the total GDP of the Basque Country.
Education has always been key to MCC and its development, hence the conversion of the old school into the University of Mondragón in the 1990s, a private university to promote further development. Some 4,000 students attend the university campuses in Oñati , Eskoriatza and Mondragón.
MCC now constitutes over 150 companies, with important manufacturing and engineering interests, as well as retail, financial and educational arms. Its supermarket arm, Eroski, is the largest Spanish-owned retail food chain and the third largest retail group in Spain.