The Mondragon Cooperative Experience
Ander Etxeberria Otadui, the Head of Cooperative Dissemination for the Mondragon Corporation, gives a special “inside glimpse” into the historic and innovative Mondragon Cooperative system – one of the most important economic, entrepreneurial, and business ecosystems modeling social sustainability and community stewardship in a remarkably robust way – an example for the rest of us to study, understand, experience, and emulate. Following a week-long immersive conference at Mondragon (curated by Georgia Kelly’s Praxis Peace Institute (Ep. 137) and hosted by Ander Etxeberria Otadui), podcast host Aaron Perry speaks with Ander in two different settings about Mondragon’s unique cultural ethos, business environment, and social setting.
About the Mondragon Cooperative System
Founded in the 1950s in the Basque town of Mondragon with the guidance of Father Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta (“Arizmendi”), who advocated “creating God’s Kingdom on Earth,” the Mondragon Cooperative system now includes 80 independent and inter-dependent, cooperatively-owned companies with approximately 69,000 worker-owner members that generate over €10.2 billion (~$11 billion USD) in aggregate annual sales. With businesses in many sectors, ranging from manufacturing to engineering, and from retail sales to research and development, the Mondragon system is one of the world’s largest worker-owned industrial/manufacturing cooperative ecosystem that also has its own university, banking, and insurance cooperatives. Embodying a unique balance between solidarity and business acumen, the Mondragon system delivers cutting-edge competitive advantage in the global economy while also ensuring and maintaining the well-being and equity of its worker-owners and the Basque community in which the cooperatives operate. Indeed, while the Basque region was the poorest region of Spain in the 1950s, it is now the most prosperous – with the highest average income in the entire country. However, you will neither find the mega-mansions and super yachts of extreme wealth nor the travesties of systemic poverty. In Mondragon the entire community lives “in the middle,” and enjoys a cultural milieu in which senior executives, elected public officials, academics, and “blue-collar” and “white-collar” workers all mingle together on a weekly basis in their progressive weekend gatherings, enjoying refreshments and mingling in community together, all on the same level. And this cultural egalitarianism is reflected in a structural requirement of the entire cooperative system: the pay-gap differential doesn’t exceed a ratio of 6:1. That is, unlike the unfettered neoliberal “free-market” capitalism in the United States and elsewhere in the world where senior executives take home some 200-300 times more pay than the workers in their companies, at Mondragon, the highest paid executives’ earnings do not exceed an amount six times the earnings of the lowest-level full-time worker-owner member.
Mondragon has 10 Core Principles:
- Open Admission & Neutrality
- Democratic Organization
- Sovereignty of Labor
- Instrumentality & Subordinate Nature of Capital
- Participatory Management
- Wage Solidarity
- Social Transformation
Perhaps best epitomizing the esprit de corps of Mondragon is the expression: “We go together!”
About the Basque Region & Basque Culture
Nestled in the northern region of Spain and southwestern region of France, with both a coastal stretch along the Bay of Biscay and a mountainous region in the Pyrenees Mountains, the Basque Region is the historic homeland of the Basque people, a distinct ethnic group whose unique language has no detectable relationship with the vast body of Indo-European languages that include the Romance, Germanic, Slavic, and Indic linguistic family. Some have suggested a linguistic connection to the ancient Atlantean culture of which Plato and many others from antiquity wrote, but this hasn’t been proven, of course. With a rich cultural and culinary heritage, the Basque region has attracted visitors throughout time, notably including author Ernest Hemingway who drafted his famous novel The Sun Also Rises there in and around the spectacular coastal town of San Sebastian. After decades of oppression and struggle under dictator Franco’s fascist regime (1939-1975), during which Hitler’s Nazi Luftwaffe bombed the Basque people as a Blitzkrieg “test run,” the Basque people have emerged as a bastion for human rights, social equity, and economic prosperity that now collaborates with peoples around the world struggling to achieve peace and prosperity. Notably, jurist René Samuel Cassin, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who co-authored the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was from the Basque Region.
About Ander Etxeberria Otadui
Ander Etxeberria Otadui serves as head of Cooperative Dissemination for Mondragon Corporation / Otalora MONDRAGON since eight years ago. He serves annually approximately two thousand people who want to know about the MONDRAGON Cooperative Experience: professionals, students, politicians… And he explains MONDRAGON in different universities and forums around the world.
Previously, he worked in another cooperative of the Corporation, IKERLAN Technology Center, as Personnel Manager, for eleven years and before in the Corporate Center of MONDRAGON in training, for seven years. First studied Technical Engineering at Mondragon University (Arrasate-Mondragón) and then Sociology at Deusto University (Bilbao).
Resources & Related Episodes
22 Video “Explore Mondragon” Series: exploremondragon.com
Praxis Peace Institute (Curator of Immersion Seminars at Mondragon): https://www.praxispeace.org/