At the end of Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore states that there is an alternative to capitalism. “It’s called ‘democracy’ ” he says. By ‘democracy’ he clearly means democracy in our economic life, including inside the workplace. In the film he has shown us workers cooperatives where workers participate fully in decision-making about their enterprises. The Basque MONDRAGON cooperatives have been one of the few large-scale efforts to implement these cooperative democratic principles.
While these efforts are no without their problems, workers cooperatives are among the few interesting alternatives to traditional capitalist enterprises around. They deserve to be further developed and fully explored. Perhaps most exciting is how workplace democracy can overcome the alienation typical of the traditional workplace where so many are assumed to lack the knowledge, insight, and understanding to make good decisions while a small group of individuals who are guided largely by monetary concerns make the decisions for all and are rewarded handsomely for their supposed acumen.
The United Steelworkers and MONDRAGON cooperatives have issued the following press release which suggests that workplace democracy may soon be coming to an enterprise near you:
The United Steelworkers (USW) and MONDRAGON Internacional, S.A. today announced a framework agreement for collaboration in establishing MONDRAGON cooperatives in the manufacturing sector within the United States and Canada. The USW and MONDRAGON will work to establish manufacturing cooperatives that adapt collective bargaining principles to the MONDRAGON worker ownership model of “one worker, one vote.”“We see today’s agreement as a historic first step towards making union co-ops a viable business model that can create good jobs, empower workers, and support communities in the United States and Canada,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “Too often we have seen Wall Street hollow out companies by draining their cash and assets and hollowing out communities by shedding jobs and shuttering plants. We need a new business model that invests in workers and invests in communities.”
Josu Ugarte, President of MONDGRAGON Internacional added: “What we are announcing today represents a historic first – combining the world’s largest industrial worker cooperative with one of the world’s most progressive and forward-thinking manufacturing unions to work together so that our combined know-how and complimentary visions can transform manufacturing practices in North America.”
Highlighting the differences between Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) and union co-ops, Gerard said, “We have lots of experience with ESOPs, but have found that it doesn’t take long for the Wall Street types to push workers aside and take back control. We see Mondragon’s cooperative model with ‘one worker, one vote’ ownership as a means to re-empower workers and make business accountable to Main Street instead of Wall Street.”
Both the USW and MONDRAGON emphasized the shared values that will drive this collaboration. Mr. Ugarte commented, “We feel inspired to take this step based on our common set of values with the Steelworkers who have proved time and again that the future belongs to those who connect vision and values to people and put all three first. We are excited about working with Mondragon because of our shared values, that work should empower workers and sustain families and communities,” Gerard added.
In the coming months, the USW and MONDRAGON will seek opportunities to implement this union co-op hybrid approach by sharing the common values put forward by the USW and MONDGRAGON and by operating in similar manufacturing segments in which both the USW and MONDRAGON already participate.
Click here for the full text of the Agreement.
The MONDRAGON Corporation mission is to produce and sell goods and provide services and distribution using democratic methods in its organizational structure and distributing the assets generated for the benefit of its members and the community, as a measure of solidarity. MONDRAGON began its activities in 1956 in the Basque town of Mondragon by a rural village priest with a transformative vision who believed in the values of worker collaboration and working hard to reach for and realize the common good.
Today, with approximately 100,000 cooperative members in over 260 cooperative enterprises present in more than forty countries; MONDRAGON Corporation is committed to the creation of greater social wealth through customer satisfaction, job creation, technological and business development, continuous improvement, the promotion of education, and respect for the environment. In 2008, MONDRAGON Corporation reached annual sales of more than sixteen billion euros with its own cooperative university, cooperative bank, and cooperative social security mutual and is ranked as the top Basque business group, the seventh largest in Spain, and the world’s largest industrial workers cooperative.
About the USW:
The USW is North America’s largest industrial union representing 1.2 million active and retired members in a diverse range of industries.
October 29th, 2009