The Mondragon System: Cooperation at Work

The Mondragon Cooperative Corporation is a 35 year old experiment in building a comprehensive cooperative society in which labor plays the primary and dominant role. The Cooperative Group has amassed technical, managerial and financial resources comparable to those of a major corporation and used those resources to further social as well as economic goals that emphasize the importance of community and small and medium scale enterprise.

Headquartered in the city of Mondragon, population 30,000, the Cooperative Corporation has member cooperatives in all four of Spain’s Basque provinces. The Corporation consists of over 160 cooperative enterprises, of which 90 are industrial companies, and has over 21,000 worker-owners. Its economic activities represent 2 percent of the economy of the Basque provinces.

In Mondragon, cooperative members could spend much of their lives and satisfy many of their needs within their own cooperative structures. They could attend school from day care through post graduate instruction within a cooperative structure. Members can shop in several hundred cooperative stores, some of them the size of K Marts with a similarly diverse merchandise selection.

Although only a small proportion of the food products they buy might have been grown and processed in their own agricultural cooperatives, they could buy most of their appliances from cooperative factories. Medical care, home, auto, business and life insurance, disability benefits, family allowances, unemployment insurance and pensions are all financed and managed through their cooperative system. Their bank is a cooperative. So is their travel agency.

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David Morris

David Morris is co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and currently ILSR's distinguished fellow. His five non-fiction books range from an analysis of Chilean development to the future of electric power to the transformation of cities and neighborhoods.  For 14 years he was a regular columnist for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. His essays on public policy have appeared in the New York TimesWall Street Journal, Washington PostSalonAlternetCommon Dreams, and the Huffington Post.