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Finding a system that works for its people


Imagine living in a place where, even in this economic downturn, there is zero percent unemployment. Where there are no homeless people or soup kitchens, because poverty is unknown. Where students get a quality education at a private university for about $5,000 a year, and healthcare and pensions are not threatened because of political posturing or Wall Street manipulations.

In September 2011, Praxis Peace Institute brought a group of 25 people to study at the Mondragon Cooperatives (MCC) in Spain, the largest consortium of worker-owned businesses in the world. Founded by a Basque Catholic priest 57 years ago with one small worker-owned business, today the Mondragon Cooperatives comprise 120 businesses and about 90,000 worker-owners.

Mondragon has become the model for those seeking an alternative to the business practices sinking our economy. In these times of financial crisis, a structure that puts people before profits yet still manages to make a profit arouses the interest of people all over the world.

While the unemployment rate in Spain is around 20 percent, it is zero percent in the Mondragon Cooperatives. How do they do it?

If one company in the cooperative network needs to downsize, they are able to place workers in another one of the Mondragon Cooperatives. Sometimes, the worker-owners vote to lower their salary for a given period of time, but their healthcare and pensions remain in place.

The Mondragon Cooperatives Corporation (MCC) incorporates a holistic approach to economic relationships and includes 10 core principles that support people, their health, their education, their personal development and their society. These principles are education; sovereignty of labor; instrumental and subordinated nature of capital; democratic organization; open admission; participation in management; wage solidarity; inter-cooperation; social transformation; and the universal nature of economic democracy.

It seems that Mondragon has taken the very best ideas in both capitalism and socialism, and created a hybrid that supports people, their ideas, their health, their education, their personal development and their society. Whatever one calls it, it works. And it works better for more people than any other system today.

Georgia Kelly is the founder and director of Praxis Peace Institute in Sonoma.