The Workers' Paradise A Discussion of Workers Cooperatives and Building the New Economy

September 24, 2015

We do not live alone, but in co-operation


There is something in the depths of the human spirit that is firm and eternal. And there is also something that needs to be moving towards a new and superior expansion, in consonance with the interior and social regeneration of human beings. It is for this reason that their social achievements must reflect this transformation.


I missed yesterday, but also took the time to read the transcript of Pope Francis’ speech to the American people through their elected representatives in Congress this morning.

In his praise of the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, Dorothy Day, Pope Francis said, quoting Laudato Si which he published this Spring:

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation an distribution of wealth. The right of natural resources, the proper allocation of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of the enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. ‘Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.’ . . . Now  is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a ‘culture of care’ and an ‘integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”

Co-operation does seek to build financial wealth among its members, but it also strives for community wealth and social wealth. It operates within the values of solidarity and mutual self-help to build sustainable economic systems that bring all of the members of the community up together without destroying the physical environment upon which our collective economic and human lives depend.

I have seen many in the co-op world (especially in the worker co-op community) see the model as just another form of capitalism and that the only metrics that matter on the financial bottom line. However, co-operation is perhaps the most inefficient at maximizing personal wealth. Its aim, from the beginning, is to have a social bottom line.

The co-operative movement cannot stop at creating financial wealth, it must also reach the human and help them connect with their community to see that the financial wealth is, in our socio-economic model, a benevolent side-effect of the main effect of creating a community based on dignity for the human and respect for the world that provides its resources so that we can flourish.

October 28, 2013

Circling Around to the Beginning?

Filed under: Worker Rights — Tags: , , , , , , — John McNamara @ 1:34 pm

In my studies over the last two years, I have learned a lot about American politics and the attitude towards labor in these United States. It is a very interesting dynamic and one that helps to make Foucault’s concept of Genealogy quite relevant. The role of genealogy allows an examination of the history of labor in the United States and elsewhere. The concept of work and the employee as known in 2013 is significantly different from that in 1963 and even more from 1863. However, this does not suggest, nor should it, an evolutionary transition based on modern progress, but a running debate between competing discourses rooted in the concept of Republicanism on the one hand and aristocratic control and domination on the other (see Roy Jacques’s Manfuacturing the Employee).

In the earliest days of the US labor movement, the call for national unions coincided with calls for worker owned factories. The idea of the “wage” system was seen exactly for the trick that it has become. The wage creates a schism between the output of a worker and their ability to do the job. It led to the scientific management motto of Fred Taylor “an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay”. Of course, it is management, not the worker, who decides what each value becomes. The focus on wages then led to a small confined box for labor unions to negotiate: wages and benefits. This hampers the workers ability to negotiate conditions of labor and those conditions tend to be, with some minor exceptions, wrapped up into the rights of Management.

Now, however, after thirty years of destroying the power of labor union’s ability to provided living wages and benefits, we come back to the 1860’s and a greater call for worker ownership. However, there generally isn’t, except for the IWW, a call for abolishing the wage system. If we are going to create a better working environment for workers through ownership, can we do that by simply imitating the capitalist system?

The debate over worker ownership and the value of the worker has been occurring almost as long as the debate over the role of the federal government and the right of property owners. As we debate the sort of sustainable economy that we want, we should also debate the means of compensating workers for their labor. We should simply accept the wage and benefit system as the predetermined perfect way as it has barely existed for 120 years. If we are going to work in a different economic paradigm for the marketplace (cooperation), we need to consider holistic changes to our industrial relations.

October 7, 2013

Be the Change You Want to See

Bob Cannell presented some challenging ideas about the nature worker cooperation in the English-speaking world last week. He noted the disparity in the rise of worker owned and controlled businesses in Spain, Italy, France, Brazil, Argentina and a number of other countries that he deemed “Latin”. What cultural barriers exist in our Anglo-Saxon based cultures that prevent the sort of acceptance of worker ownership.

I don’t want to suggest that this post is a “response” to Bob in the sense that I am providing a counter argument. I, too, see the disparity. I think that it is a good place to have a discussion because too often I see that the idea of worker ownership is a tool that may community organizers want to use, but they don’t seem to see worker control as being part of the deal. This allows social structures that might improve job and working conditions, but don’t teach workers how to engage in a democracy. There are some reasons for that, and ultimately, it is what separates the Latin/Anglo-Saxon views of work and humanity. These differences create limitations and I offered a discussion on this topic a couple of years ago in a post-entitled Roadblocks on the Path to Mondragon.

Of course, each cooperative has its own unique spot in history. Mondragon was aided, to a large degree, by the Falangist Party in that the country was isolated from the world and the workers of Mondragon were not seen as a threat to the fascists in the way that the anarchists of Barcelona and the Communist Party in southern Spain were seen to be. In Italy, the coops managed to navigate Mussolini’s world and WWII and came out strong enough to create a legal framework for their existence. All that aside, Bob’s discussion of culture is one that we must address. We cannot depend on market failure and depression to build our movement.


A key difference that needs to be discussed is that the Reformation divorced a certain segment of Europe from the Catholic Church. The English Reformation (with their allies in the Netherlands and Belgium) occurred just a couple of hundred years prior to the rise of capitalism. This meant that Europeans who largely rejected or ignored the teachings of the Catholic Church took over North America displacing the existing civilizations. While I don’t consider myself to be religious, I do recognize that the Catholic Church has played and will continue to play a key role in cooperative development. Rerum Novarum, the Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Capital and Labor created the basis of the distributist movement and led its expression in the form of the Antigonish Movement, Mondragon, and liberation theology promoted South American priests. Written in 1891, Leo XIII expressed official Church support for labor unions, but more importantly dignity in work and the ability of working men and women to be able to better themselves intellectually, spiritually and financially through mutual self-help and self-responsibility and solidarity—three values of the modern Cooperative Identity. Of course, Rerum Novarum as a response to the growing popularity of socialism that threatened the holding private property and the Catholic Church had and has a lot of private property.

Father Jimmy Thomson and Father Moses Coady led the Antigonish Movement in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island (the area still has a strong Acadian population of native French speaking Canadians). In Spain, Don Arizmenidaretta led Mondragon and his writings clearly espouse the teaching of Leo XIII. The use of worker cooperatives by the Sandinistas (Nicaragua) and Chavez  (Venezuela) revolutions come directly out of Rerum Novarum and liberation theology. Even today, Catholic organizations work diligently to promote cooperatives world-wide.

Work, in the English experience is not held to the same standard or is seen as a communal act. Neither is commerce. The origins of the word “competition” came from rivalry between merchant classes of Italy. Cum Petere, according to cooperative economists Stefano and Vera Zamagni, expressed the desire of the merchants of one city to work together in competition against other cities (Milan vs. Florence, for example). The Reformation changed this concept and made the individual owner, not society the center of one’s efforts. Roy Jacques argues in his work, Manufacturing the Employee, that pre-industrial US saw employment as either a means to become an owner or a personal failure of the individual. By the end of the 19th Century, the ideas of Scientific Management (Taylorism) were starting to take hold in the US, Canada and the UK, which infantilized workers leaving them untrusted for either ownership or control.

Thus the divide between Latin and Anglo-Saxon cultures has led to different concepts of worker ownership and control. I think that the difference results from a lack of ideological, if not spiritual, basis for the value of work. This allows many in the US to see ESOPs as equivalent to worker cooperatives. It allows well-meaning affluent social workers to create worker coops in name but with structures that limit worker control. The infantilization of the US worker has become so deeply embedded in our culture that many workers may not even be able to emotionally handle ownership without significant training on what that really means or worse, people may actually believe that workers cannot emotionally handle ownership.

I will be focusing primarily on the US experience. This is because of another schism that took place in 1783. When the United States divorced themselves from the United Kingdom, they also forsook common law that dates back to the Magna Carta. This has played out in a country in which work and labor is largely devalued. The role of Common Law may be a minor one, but it does have an effect as the number of “right to work” states and “at will employment” states continues to grow. In terms of Union households, the US is hovering around 9%–one of the the lowest of OECD nations (lower than South Korea) while Canada and the UK hang in at 32 and 33 per cent respectively. The US, in its puritan, Jacksonsian democracy simply doesn’t value labor unless it is one’s own personal labor. The American Dream is a solitary one.

So What Do We Do About This?

As a movement, we need to talk about repowerment not “empowering” people. How is that different? I see repowerment as developing the sense within today’s working class that they have power and that power isn’t something given to them by benevolent wealthy people it is something that they already have and they need to use it. Repowerment means seeing ownership as something that has, to a large extent, been stolen from the working class by the employing class (or investing class). The infantilization of the modern worker through Scientific Management (Taylorism) and Human Relations (Taylorism with Mayo) is a leftover effect of slavery and indentured servitude that creates a culture of workers that don’t believe that they are capable of managing their own affairs.

Culture change needs to be front and center in our movement. We need to create the ideological, if not spiritual, basis for worker ownership as we organize workers. We can do this by working with like-minded groups such as pro-worker coop labor unions such as the US Steelworkers. We need to create a consistent message that the worker coop movement isn’t just about decent jobs, it is about creating human dignity and allowing workers to reach their full potential as a human being.

To some extent this may mean pushing back a bit on those seeking to use the worker cooperative model in community organizing. We need to hold them to standards of worker control as well as ownership while also providing the tools to help teach worker control.  Some may see this as being too ideological, but if we simply allow worker cooperation to be co-opted by ESOP style models (in which control stays in the hands of a super board, social workers, or an investing class), then we will be relegated to being a small movement.

Bob suggests that we can expand our movement if we can find governance models that make sense to the Anglo-Saxon mindset. However, given the population trends in the United States, I think that we would do better to change the Anglo-Saxon mindset. Due to globalization and post-colonial migration, our societies are becoming much less monolithic and mono-cultural. The era of Anglo-Saxon dominance in the world has been relatively short-lived, maybe 150 years and in the US the Anglo-Saxon culture may become a minority culture within the next fifty years. Fortunately, one aspect of Anglo-Saxon mindset is the ability to quickly adapt and appropriate other culture’s norms.

Worker Coops and Labor Unions

One of the great opportunities for a cultural shift is occurring right now. As the US labor movement comes to realize that the tiny box known as the National Labor Relations Act (aka The Wagner Model) no longer holds that full potential of organizing workers in a factory-less economy, it is also seeking repowerment by redefining what it means to be a labor union in the United States.

Labor Unions have already attempted the ESOP model only to see some fairly massive failures (United Airlines, for example). They are also seeing a shifting labor movement in terms of language, cultures and industry. In many areas, worker cooperatives and labor unions are working among the same group of workers. The experiment of the US Steelworkers and Mondragon shouldn’t end there. The Mondragon model works for Basque culture but it can’t be simply transplanted onto US workers. We need to create our own model built on our own culture and the first thing to do is to start defining that culture by working with groups to demonstrate that repowerment will be stronger than empowerment. A number of these ideas have already been put into motion due to the determined opportunism (the good kind) of the US worker coop leadership; however, we also need to develop a consistent message that goes beyond “teaching people to fish”, we need to say that worker control doesn’t just feed people’s bodies, but there minds and spirits as well. We aren’t just interested in decent jobs, but in creating a strong society of fully-realized human beings who will be present in their lives and create sustainable health communities. We don’t want a nice playground (workplace) for children (workers). If our worker coops don’t have the ability to make stupid decisions and learn from them then it is just another playground.

Some practical steps:

  • Read Arizmendiaretta’s Pensamientos
  • The US Federation of Workers Cooperatives should consider joining the AFL-CIO when that membership becomes available;
  • Attend and participate at events such as Jobs with Justice to promote the worker ownership and worker control model of worker cooperation (I’ll be in Detroit for one such meeting on October 19).
  • Work with groups such as Interfaith Center for Worker Justice to promote worker cooperatives.
  • Within our cooperatives, take the time to teach about the coops that have successfully flattened their hierarchy or engage real control over the workplace (i.e. they don’t hire a non-member manager to tell them what to do).

Don’t be afraid of a secular spirituality or even a religious spirituality. No one is asking anyone to convert.

Of course, before we can change the culture, we need to agree that it needs changing and on what to change it to. Without having conversations such as the one started by Bob Cannell, we will continue to operate within the Anglo-Saxon paradigm that privileges consumerism over labor.

Workers, in the United States and perhaps in the UK, Canada and other WASP dominated nations have allowed themselves to be defined by the employer which has created an infantilized workforce unable to function without a parental manager leading the way. It is a sick culture that usurps our humanity. If we really want to see our movement grow, it needs a cultural basis (if not an ideological basis) that makes it more than just another arrow in an organizer’s quiver.

March 6, 2011

Keeping the Discussion Going

Filed under: Worker Rights — Tags: , , — John McNamara @ 8:00 am

The last three weeks have seen a revolution brewing. As the corporatists, who have seized control of the Republican Party, attempted to launch their most audacious attempt at Disaster Capitalism, the Shock Doctrine, the people didn’t flinch. They didn’t get scared. Instead they came out in the thousands, tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands. They came out in Madison and then Hudson and then all across the United States. They found allies across the world. The revolution against the Chicago School of Economics and Milton Friedman has begun and not a moment too soon.

However, it would be foolish to think that a victory in the Battle of Wisconsin will be the end of the war. It will not. While every effort must be made to stop the Budget Repair Bill which strips public sector workers of their right to collectively bargain while creating an impossible mandate of annual certification on the labor unions, it is only the beginning of the war The corporatists and their henchmen in the halls of political power will not stop with a failure to seize our democracy in Wisconsin. They have already opened other fronts in Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey and Michigan.

While we work to stop this bill, stop the biennial budget bill (which is amazing in its heartlessness) that includes: electing a Supreme Court justice who supports people over corporations (Judy Kloppenberg), recalling the GOP Senators, and getting “people-first” candidates in the three special elections, we also need to start planning. We need to develop models for taking our economy back from the corporations. We need to create mechanisms that place the political parties in their proper place: expressing the will of the people, not the corporations. The parties and elected leaders should not be leading the people, but reflecting the people’s will.

What will all of this look like? I wrote about this last fall in my discussion of Distributism. My friend and comrade, Rebecca Kemble, brought the current protest into this focus with her excellent essay, Normalizing Control. We need to start having a national (if not an international) discussion. We need plans to change our world to one that is in alignment with human dignity and our values.

I’ll start with a discussion of how we might meet basic services given the worst case scenario of the Walker Corporatist Agenda. I hope that some of you will join in and offer your ideas on these pages.

September 23, 2010

A Vision of Our Movement (or a beginning of a discussion)

Filed under: Movement,Worker Rights — Tags: , , , — John McNamara @ 8:00 am

Today, as this goes to post, I am about to start the first day of a two-day retreat for the US Federation of Worker Co-operatives board. The last several posts had a lot to do with this event as the Federation enters it sixth year. We have zero turn-over on the board and an opportunity to develop some clear vision and institutional infrastructure this year. It also marks the end of the original five year plan drafted back in Minneapolis in 2004.

Yesterday, I ended my post with this short comment: “Externally, we as a movement, need to create the basis for seeing a syndicalist worker movement as a viable means of managing the economy. We need to use our institutions and our co-operatives to present a true alternative to the dominant paradigm of capitalist and theft of labor. In this regard, we need to turn away from the rather insular Mondragon model and borrow a tactic from a very different guide and trailblazer: Milton Friedman.”

Yes. Milton Friedman has something to teach us. Under his leadership, he corrupted Breton Woods, turned the International Monetary Fund into a tool for economic extremists, destroyed Keynesianism, led the Chinese Communist Party to enroll entrepreneurs and created a thirty-year legacy of expanding the gap between rich and poor. Obviously, I think that his ideas are bankrupt and, to be honest, it would be hard for anyone to show where they have truly succeeded without the force of a military behind them. But, I am not here to discuss Disaster Capitalism. Naomi Klein has already written an incredibly power (and very well documented) book on this topic: The Shock Doctrine. You should add it to your list if you haven’t read it yet. I am more interested in how Friedman managed to expand his teachings from the University of Chicago to take over the world.

Friedman wasn’t interested in mere academic arguments. He believed in direct action. He put his ideas into practice. More importantly, he created plans and ideas. He made himself and his “Chicago Boys” a force in the world by showing up at Congressional sub-committee meetings and countless other functions. He realized something very important.  Economic movements cannot relegate themselves to being merely social movements. They must also be political movements. The Fabians understood this as well. Both the Chicago School and the Fabians churned out papers and proposals, attended meetings, and pushed their cause. The result is that when the opportunity struck, they had the ability to act. The Fabians took a long-term evolutionary approach, however, and really only succeeded after their big guns (George Bernard Shaw) had passed away leaving little legacy for the next generation. Friedman, on the other hand, acted quickly. While at first he operated in conjunction with US Foreign Policy and Cold War politics, he quickly understood that creating change at the end of a bayonet could never produce lasting changes (most of this discussion comes from The Shock Doctrine). Of course, I bring Friedman up mostly for the shock value, but he knew how to push his message.

What does this mean for our movement? At the National Worker Bi-Annual Conference held in Berekely last August, Executive Director Melissa Hoover noted that her hope is for worker co-operatives grow to the point that they are no longer considered the “alternative” but the “model”. So, how do we really get there?

In Haiti, after the earthquake, the proposals for rebuilding came from the usual neo-liberal sources with former US President Bill Clinton invoking their anthem: “Don’t let a good disaster go to waste.” In the rebuilding of Haiti, the discussion in the press was about privatizing government controlled businesses and services. Where was the worker co-operative plan for rebuilding the country along a democratic worker friendly economy? Well, it doesn’t exist yet. A couple of years ago, I asked Madison Mayor David Cieslewicz why co-operatives aren’t even mentioned when the city discusses development plans. He said, because you don’t show up.

We need to start creating plans and finding places to implement them. We need to engage our academics and help them become secular missionaries along the lines of our Co-op Priests from yesteryear. In Canada, they have that tradition and are working to put their ideas into practice. Isobel Findlay from the University of Saskatchewan presented work that she did last spring on creating co-operative options for single women. The Canadian Cooperative Association in conjunction with several research partners (led by Sonja Novkovic) are expanding St. Mary’s work on the Co-op Index to the larger community called Measuring the Co-operative Difference. We, as a movement, need to join them and start creating the programs, the plans, the position paper, and the buzz.

  • We need to develop “Best Practices” for worker co-operative in the United States that give our movement and identity and common language. Best Practices that combine the co-op identity with the distributist and syndicalist models. Best Practices that support us as workers and create solidarity with our external stakeholders (consumers, family, community).
  • We need to develop urban and rural planning guides for using worker co-operatives to meet community needs in a sustainable manner.
  • We need to develop a true alternative to neo-liberalism that provides a real plan of economic and environmental sustainability for communities and honoring the labor of the men and women who create the wealth of this country. Plans that generates wealth and distributes it among the people who create it.
  • We need to find communities that will work with us to implement our plans and see them to fruition (like Cleveland and the Evergreen Initiative only with a stronger sense of worker control). There are a lot of people doing this now–some are getting paid, a lot are not. The work of John Logue was certainly along this line and we need to continue that.
  • We need to create spokespeople for our movement in every major community who can speak a common economic language of worker co-operation and support these ideas at City Council Committees, State Government and even Congressional Subcommittees.
  • We need to be able to show up when the disaster strikes with our plan. We need to develop our larger ideas and models so that they are seen as a legitimate challenge to the status quo even without the pedigree of the University of Chicago or the Harvard Business School.
  • We can do most of this in bits and chunks, but I fear that has been our path and the result is that we get bits and chunks, we get people re-creating the wheel, and we get into a lot of long, drawn out debates over process and semantics. For all of these reasons, we really need to an institutional structure to help collect and then sift and winnow the ideas. Then we can debate them, take them out for  a spin and start creating our “ism”. The other side has a lot of these groups: Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institute.
  • We have the UW Center for Co-operatives, which does great work, but they are grant driven and have limitations placed on them as a tax-payer funded entity. We need something for worker co-operatives and for building our model. We need our policy wonks to be able to come together with the time to develop. We need our community organizers and co-op developers to help put those ideas into action. We need our charismatic folks to bring that message to the politicians and get them to start seeing us as a viable alternative. Mostly, we need to create a national definition of ourselves so that others don’t define our movement for us and there are already plenty of people trying to do just that.

Is this were the Democracy at Work Institute should go? How would we create a non-profit worker co-operative institute to further our movement and development along the distributist and syndicalist lines? More importantly how do we fund it so that the institute can actually do more than have phone conferences every quarter?

I’m ending this series of thoughts with a lot more questions than answers. While writing, I took a quick break and went for a walk. While walking, I was reminded that February will mark the 20th anniversary of my first election to the board of Union Cab. At the time, I was still planning on being an English professor. In 1995, as president, I answered a survey on worker co-ops from a Canadian researcher. When I asked him later for results, he said that there weren’t any. It turns out that he couldn’t find enough worker co-ops in the US to conduct valid research. Nine years after that, the first national worker co-op conference was held in Minneapolis and next year, just seven years later, the first North American Worker Co-operative Conference will be held in Quebec City, Quebec. There are almost 300 identified worker co-ops in the US with about 1/3 of them members of the US Federation. We are about to certify the first cohort of Worker Co-op Peer Advisors.

We have the momentum right now, but we need to find a way to channel it. We need to find a way to push our movement to the next level. We have to find a way to help our co-ops educate their members on the co-op difference and, in turn, help create the energy needed to maintain the momentum and extend it. I intend to spend the next thirty years, if I have to, to figure it out and I hope that you join me–and I now I have to go join a meeting.

Thanks for getting through this five-day post–I’d love to hear your thoughts.

September 22, 2010

Can Syndicalism Help Worker Co-ops?

Filed under: Worker Rights — Tags: , , , , — John McNamara @ 8:00 am

If you talk to a lot of co-operative developers and community organizers in the United States about Mondragon, you will likely hear them extol the virtues of the Caja Popular (former the Caja Laboral Popular). The bank owned and controlled by Mondragon played a major role in the development of the Basque co-operatives and many see it as the key to creating Mondragon in America.

Well, who wouldn’t want a bank that caters especially to worker co-operatives? But is this really the secret to Mondragon success? It certainly played a key role and provided a method of developing new cooperatives, creating strong business plans, and otherwise ensuring the financial viability of the co-operatives. However, keep in mind that the banking system of Spain in 1959 was hardly a modern system and it really wasn’t able to grow due to the isolation of the nation under the heel of the Phalange. The CJP gave Mondragon access to capital and that is something that any worker co-operative can use.  I would argue, based on experience, that successful worker co-operatives have no problem accessing capital from today’s financial institutions and we do have several development funds available in the United States including the Northcountry Co-operative Development Fund’s Worker Ownership Fund*. Granted, the availability of start-up capital has been much harder to come by and there are few, if any, Angel Investors in the worker co-operative world. A worker co-op bank can be started at any time. All that needs to happen is for the co-ops who want to create our version of the CJP to simply pool their assets and hire a bank manager (yeah, I know that it isn’t THAT simple, but bear with me).

I think that the stronger part of the Mondragon model is the Social Council. Unlike the social committees of most co-operatives, this group doesn’t plan the summer picnic and winter party. The Social Council represents workers as workers. It is essentially a watch dog on management and the governing councils. This body within Mondragon provides a model for our co-operatives as it infuses the distributist structure of the worker co-operative with a definite syndicalist voice.

Syndicalism was made popular in the United States by the Industrial Workers of the World. The Syndicalist rejected both the capitalist and socialist world views. They sought, instead, to create a world in which the basic political unit was not the dollar or the voter, but the worker. They saw a structure that is quite similar to Mondragon’s structure with individual worker collectives connected by industry and sector into a regional, national and international alignment. A colleague of mine discussed his view of neo-syndicalism on this site back in December of 2009. While Fred speaks about direct action along the lines of the Buenos Aires workers featured in the excellent documentary, The Take, the structural concept of syndicalism already exists. It involves pulling our workplaces together and creating a strategy. It also means making sure that our worker co-operatives really have a syndicalist basis and aren’t simply capitalist partnerships trying to sneak in to good party.

Arizmenidiaretta would have been quite familiar with the logic and ideas of the Anarcho-Syndicalists of Barcelona as they were heavily involved in the fight to save the Republic in 1936. Certainly, Mondragon arose like a Phoenix out of the ashes of the Republic. So, we should not be surprised to see that the Mondragon co-operatives developed  distributist and syndicalist institutions. Both offered third ways between the state socialism of the the Fabians and the “invisible hand” of the Free Marketeers.

It is in this juncture that the distributists and the syndicalists converge. To me, that is the lesson of Mondragon and what should be imported into the United States worker co-operative movement. This also appears to be the pathway for co-operative development as envisioned by Mondragon and the US Steelworkers. A renewed syndicalist movement in this country could well be the pathway to creating a distributist society and overcoming the culture of wage and chattel slavery. The IWW’s great slogan, after all, was “Instead of saying ‘A Fair Day’s Pay for a Fair Day’s Work’ we say ‘Abolish the Wage System!'” We need to start changing the world to one that values the worker. We need to bring back syndicalism as not just a counter-weight to ne0-liberalism, but with the goal of it displacing neo-liberalism as the preferred economic model for sustainable communities.

The creation of a new syndicalist movement should be quite natural to those of us who have chosen worker co-operation, but it is an easier thing to think and blog about that to actually create. For one, my guess in that only one in a hundred of the workers in our co-operatives could define syndicalism, let alone distributism or any of the other economic models. Given the amount of neo-liberal arguments that I hear in my own co-operative and other debates, I can tell you that many worker co-operative members do not see a significant difference between capitalism and co-operation.  Just recently I talked to a fellow member who supports keeping the Bush tax cuts because “I want to rich some day.” <Heavy Sigh> In this environment, spouting the slogans of the IWW from a hundred years ago will likely generate more eye-rolling than anything else.

How do we create what we need without sounding like we time traveled from 1967? or 1907? Another lesson from those Co-op Priests: Tompkins, Coady and Arizmendiaretta:  we need to create educational programs that are modern but still promote the differences between the “one-dollar, one-vote” of capitalism and “one-worker, one-vote” of co-operative syndicalism. We need an education programs and we also need to create incentives for people to participate in them. We need to act internally and externally.

Internally, we need education programs and a constant focus on how we are different. How does Rainbow differ from a traditional grocery store? How does Union Cab differ from a traditional cab company? How does Co-operative Home Care differ from a traditional home care service? You and I might easily answer that question, but can every member of your co-op answer how their co-op really differs from the capitalist competitors in your industry? I don’t mean simply describing the structure (which would be great) but the underlying concept of the organization. Does the analysis stop at “We own it!”, if it does, then the understanding may be a mile wide, but it is only an inch deep.

In addition to the educational process, we need to create the social committees. We can call them Steward Councils, or Member Advocates, or any language that our community knows and understands. However, we need to create real syndicalist functions within our co-operatives. These councils need to do more than simply help members file grievances and present ideas, they can’t simply mimic the antagonistic labor relations from the factory. They need to educate people on their history as a worker in addition to the former educational process of the co-operative. They need to create solidarity among the entire workforce (not against management or any other group, but among all those who work including the leadership) and they need to be the voice for the workers while the board speaks for the members and management speaks for the business.

Externally, we as a movement, need to create the basis for seeing a syndicalist worker movement as a viable means of managing the economy. We need to use our institutions and our co-operatives to present a true alternative to the dominant paradigm of capitalist and theft of labor. In this regard, we need to turn away from the rather insular Mondragon model and borrow a tactic from a very different guide and trailblazer: Milton Friedman.

More on that, tomorrow.

September 21, 2010

The Agency Dilemma in Worker Co-operatives

Filed under: Movement,Worker Rights — Tags: , , , , , , — John McNamara @ 8:00 am

Last week at my other blog, Breathing Lessons, I discussed the Rochdale cul-de-sac as it applies to consumer cooperatives. This week, as part of this discussion over the future of US worker cooperatives, if not the labor movement in the United States, I want to put the spotlight of the Agency Dilemma on our movement.

It would be a mistake to presume that worker cooperatives, by their nature, enjoy an immunity to the agency dilemma. Race Matthews notes that even Mondragon has its issues. In the US, we have a lot of issues that arise from our culture as well as from the Agency Dilemma.

A More Critical View of Mondragon

First, while I am impressed with Mondragon and loathe to point out the cobwebs up in the corners, it is worth mentioning that perfection is a goal that we strive for, but can never attain. Thus, the criticism of Mondragon (and our own co-operatives) should be accepted in the effort to make them better.

The single biggest criticism of Mondragon has been their outsourcing labor to the developing countries without developing worker co-operatives. This not only runs counter to their principles but invokes the legacy of Spanish imperialism especially when they are engaging the South American economy. However, even within their co-operatives, Mondragon can succumb to elitism and a class separation among their workforce. Matthews cites research conducted by groups within and without Mondragon. Specifically the work of Cornell University anthropologist Dayvydd Greenwood and the ethnography of Sharyn Kasmir . Matthews also taps the work of Mondragon insiders José Luis González (at the time, the Director of Human Resources at FAGOR), and  Mikel Limenez. The work that Matthews uses is from his 1990 position as the Director of Sociological Research for Ikasbide, the predecessor of Otalara Institute. Mikel generally leads the tour groups.

While the workers love their co-operatives and appreciate them, they also recognize that there are “those above” and “those below” (Matthews, 1999, 225) They also speak of issues that should resonate with those of us in the United States, “we are less equal among ourselves than the workers in a capitalist firm; being members, many of us often have to put up with things that workers in other firms would not tolerate.” (Matthews, 1999, 225) Certainly, the 1974 strike revealed a very real rift along gender lines in the co-operatives. While the official discussion of the strike resulted in limiting the size of co-operatives (the factory co-op that suffered the strike had over 2,500 members), it did not talk about how the strike leaders were treated. According to Kasmir in The Myth of Mondragon, twenty-four leaders from the strike were fired (2/3’s of them women). Twenty-two were re-hired except for two women. They were unable to find decent employment in the Basque country for almost five years (public pressure finally forced their re-hiring). (Kasmir, 1996, 110-120) Kasmir’s work provides a Gramsci-esque critique of Mondragon. I can tell you that it is not well received by academia and considered flawed. It is an ethnography so her work does have certain limitations, but I think that it does raise some issues that shouldn’t be ignored.

The point is that our co-operatives can easily succumb to the dominant paradigm of capitalism. Even Mondragon can create an environment where mental and physical labor has separate value within the organization. We are not immune from creating agency theory. If our Human Resource department only has the corporate world of human resources to use for educating itself, it shouldn’t be a surprise that our HR departments talk and act like other corporations. Unless we create a structure that either flattens hierarchy or contains and channels its power, we are susceptible to it overcoming our democracies. If Mondragon cannot eradicate it despite their principles and culture, then it will be doubly hard for our US Co-ops.

The US Agency Dilemma

Our coops have few, if any, resources as worker cooperatives. While the Worker Co-operative conferences offer some skill sets and workshops, it can be difficult to translate between industries. We often have to turn to our industry and their “best practices.” As I have mentioned before, we need to critique the “best practices” rather than simply accept them. In whose interest are these practices best? My guess is that they work best for the managers first and the stakeholders second. The workers are far down the pecking order.

Because US culture bases itself on control and power, it creates an environment where it can be quite easy for our worker co-ops to mimic them. We often haven’t the time or energy to explain and debate every detail of the operations to the membership. It is easier to let individuals specialize in their area and run it. However, that needn’t take away from the democracy of the organization. For the smaller co-ops, it is easier to maintain a collective attitude; however, as co-ops grow, they cannot always follow the Rainbow Grocery or the Arizmendi models due to the needs of their industry. These co-ops do need some level of structure and we shouldn’t see hierarchy as an automatic failure or example of Agency. We shouldn’t simply hire managers to run our co-ops and then complain about their decisions.

The Danger of Agency

One of my current fears regarding the Agency Theory and US Labor Movement comes from the two sources. First, the traditional labor movement has largely given itself over to Agency long ago. Corporate officers and union leaders make as much as the CEO and have little in common with the rank-and-file. SEIU’s growth strategy has resembled Wal-Mart more than a people’s movement. In our movement, we are seeing social workers and “community developers” find ways to co-opt the movement to include well-heeled consultants and advisers. Elsewhere, worker co-operatives are being created to outsource unionized government services with lower paid and benefit-poor positions.

The Cleveland Model offers hope, but also offers dangers. It is an agency development model that focuses on good jobs and keeping the neighborhood intact. However, it is based on the benevolence of a couple of large institutions and has a control structure that will fill the key decider roles from the established philanthropists (at least initially). Capital, in Cleveland, is creating worker co-ops to serve it, but doesn’t really adopt the concept of the sovereignty of labor or the subordinate nature of capital. This might end up being a revolutionary act and greatly aid the development of large scale co-operatives, or it might be a wonderful act of charity that really can’t be replicated (and subject to the goodwill of the benefactors). The real test of this project will come when the primary financiers step aside and allow the workers complete control over their destiny.

How Do We Move Forward?

We need to create a set of best practices for worker co-operatives regardless of their industry, size, and structure. Certainly, the CICOPA Declaration on Worker Co-operatives can provide a lot of guidance in this effort. Worker Co-op Best Practices need to be aimed at diffusing the control and power of elite groups within the organization as well as preventing cliques and informal processes from overcoming the democracy of the organization. This can and should be a role for the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives or its “project” the Democracy at Work Institute.

We need to recognize that few workers come to our co-operatives with the illumination of the co-operative movement. We need to create the means for them to understand and develop. We need to follow Arizmendiaretta’s belief that our movement is an educational movement with an economic basis. We can’t simply teach people how to read a balance sheet or write a cash-flow statement and think that we are done. We need to teach critical thinking an analysis. We need to develop a work force where every member has the knowledge and intellectual skill to engage as a fully vested member of the co-operative.

This means working to overcome our culture of treating people and labor as mere machinations of the marketplace. We need to find a way to develop a new path through our co-operatives that provides a real answer to neo-liberalism. If we only try to democratize capitalism, then we really fail. We can only be a parody of our capitalist competitors: children playing dress-up as opposed to engaging as a true adult and providing a counter-weight, a true Third Road to Socialism and Capitalism.

To overcome our Agency dilemma and develop a true Distributist society, we will need to challenge our institutions and our co-operatives to step forward, to be leaders of the labor movement. My next post will discuss the idea of how to do that and creating a neo-syndicalist movement to counter the neo-liberals.


Kasmir, Sharyn The Myth of Mondragon: Cooperatives, Politics, and Working-Class Life in a Basque Town, State of University of New York Press, Albany, 1996

Matthews, Race Jobs of Our Own: Building a Stakeholder Society (Alternatives to the Market and the State), Comerford and Miller and Pluto Press. Syndney and London. 1999

September 20, 2010

Roadblocks on the Path to Mondragon: The Theft of Labor

Filed under: Society,Worker Rights — Tags: , , , , — John McNamara @ 8:00 am

The three English countries (UK, Canada, and the United States) have, at their core, a culture that promotes and accommodates the theft of labor in a way that simply didn’t exist in Euskera (The Basque Country). Really, it is a problem for all of North and South America, but for this discussion, I will limit to North America; however, the effects of slavery culture and US imperialism have certainly caused its share of problems in worker development in the south as well.

The most obvious example of this theft was the slave trade and US slavery that was ended with the Civil War. The United States economy and society was built on slavery and the white form of it: indentured servitude. All of English society benefited from this theft of labor). In fact, this can be said for the entire Americas as all of its modern nations were based on the slave trade. In Paraguay, they even call their currency the Guarni (the name of the indigenous peoples who served as slaves).

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor for The Atlantic, has an excellent blog post on this subject called The Big Machine. Go read it and then come back. . I’ll wait. While Coates comments on race relatons, my focus is one economic class.

With the rise of capitalism and the industrial revolution, the theft of labor became a matter of principle. David Ricardo, an 18th century economist, even argued for The Iron Law of Wages which suggested that it was part of a natural economic order that workers only earn enough to sustain them to continue to labor. It was this point when the value of work was divorced from humanity and made to be simply another marketplace. Of course, as in most of the propaganda regarding “free markets”, it was a rigged system in favor of those who held capital. In the UK, workers who attempted to unionize or organize for better wages were deported or jailed. In the United States, they were murdered and blacklisted. Even Canada has its history of shooting and jailing workers.  Capital, in the English speaking north, has always trumped labor.

It would be nice to think that our culture of subsidizing our society through free labor was a quaint artifice of the past. However, it isn’t. Every summer, college students are expected to work for free (to better their future prospects). In the taxi industry workers are deemed “independent contractors” and expected to pay for the ability to work (NYC cab drivers often average only about $30 a day through this system). Of course, in college and professional sports, millions are made off of the labor of the athletes. Only a small percentage (the superstars) ever sees a share of that profit and in the college, the system takes extreme steps to ensure that the player doesn’t see a dime. A friend of mine who did legal work for migrant farm workers has dozens of tales of wage theft and outright chattel slavery in Ohio during the 80’s and 90’s.

This idea is so embedded in our culture that even the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives uses the apprentice/internship model for its Democracy at Work Network of peer advisors.

I don’t want to say that all volunteerism is wrong. Don José famously refused any compensation for his role as “advisor” to the Mondragon co-opeative. The workers even had to steal his bicycle so that they could justify buying him a new one that was motorized! Volunteerism has its place in truly fair and cooperative society, but in our society, we need to understand the fine line between volunteerism and exploitation. (Dr. Laurie Mook has a great book–What Counts? Social Accounting for Non-Profits and Cooperatives–on how to quantify volunteer hours with an expanded value statement that every coop should use).

The key point: The devaluation of labor in the US makes it a lot harder for the distributist model to take hold. Our culture establishes a base of distrust between the worker and the organization that uses their labor. It creates an environment where workers express solidarity with each other by enabling them to “get one over” on the machine. We can create worker cooperatives, but to change the culture of the workers from the asymmetrical survival strategies that they have spent a lifetime learning requires more than simply writing some by-laws.

We need accountability structures because we have a society based on theft. The original theft is from the worker who can then justify behavior as a means of fighting for their rights. We can’t really divorce ourselves from that culture without taking some extraordinary steps or developing our cooperatives from a different paradigm and working to only accept workers who have achieved that level of understanding (this might be why Cheeseboard and Rainbow Grocery can operate as they do). In the US, we had a strong labor movement until the neo-liberals under Reagan went on the attack. While they destroyed private sector unions, what replaced it was an Intifada of assymetrical class war that involves slacking, cigarette breaks, and Facebook. I’ve read some estimates where close to 25% to 30% of the work week (or white collar workers) is spent doing non-work things (chatting, smoking, web surfing, etc). On the other hand, blue collar workers at the lowest end are expected to wear diapers to work so as to keep the line moving. It is really a messed up work culture.

A Long Term View

As I will be writing over this week, we need to take a long-term view. We need to keep in mind that Mondragon was not created overnight. It started with the creation of a poorly funded school. Arizmendiaretta spent a dozen years educating students who then went to University. They then took jobs with the large employers and finally returned to Mondragon to establish their own company based on the values that they learned at their Priest’s school. Arizmendiaretta famously argued that theirs was an educational movement with an economic structure, not the other way around.

If we want to create something that looks like Mondragon and makes us feel good, we need to do more that simply try to model Mondragon. We need to first develop a legitamate belief in the value of humans and the value of work—not the false Work Ethic along the lines of Ragged Dick and the myth perpetrated by Horatio Alger that lures people into supporting capital with false promises of becoming rich themselves. We need a humanist ethic—one that has already been written down by the International Co-operative Alliance and Mondragon. We might even need to create a different pathway to a Distributist society. While the Spanish (and even the Maritimes) had their common religion and inspired priests to guide the people, we don’t. To create a culture that honors work, we need to create a means of honoring the human doing the work. Fortunately, there is already a model for that as well: syndicalism.

September 19, 2010

Mondragon in America?

Filed under: Worker Rights — Tags: , , , — John McNamara @ 11:48 am

Can Mondragon Really Happen Here?

The Great Recession has brought renewed interest in worker cooperatives in the United States. It has also generated a lot of interest in Mondragon as an example of how to move worker coops beyond small shops and into the big time. The number of people who tour Mondragon is staggering. It has increased to a level where they need to manage the traffic flow. People come away very impressed with what they created but is it something that can really be replicated over here? The people in Cleveland are giving it a go and even Mondragon has made an agreement with the US Steelworkers to try and create something along the Mondragon model in the US. However, I think that whatever industrial coop base arises in the US will need to look beyond Mondragon. As I will discuss over the next couple of posts, we may even need a renewed period of syndicalism to achieve the distributist vision of Arizmendiaretta.

I bring this up for three reasons:

1)    I just finished Jobs of Our Own by Race Matthews who calls for a new distributism movement and cites Mondragon of the example in the world of how a distributist economy/society would work. Of course, Matthews also takes about how other cooperative models fall into the Rochdale cul-de-sac and the Agency Dilemma while also pointing out that even Mondragon has some Agency issues of their own.

2)    My friend and colleague, Rebecca Kemble recently toured Mondragon. She made a very quick post on Facebook with the following description:

“Today our group of cynical, competitive Americans walked into the Star Trek episode, “Errand of Mercy,” our Basque hosts cleverly disguised as Organians, patiently waiting for us to “get it.”  What other explanation for a society with a long history of oppression and violence in which, of the 33,000 members in their worker coops, only 3 people have been fired in 50 years, nobody has left except to retire, and the fact that they will not produce anything that will be used in military or nuclear equipment is so “self-evident” (their words) that it they hardly dignify the question with discussion and they haven’t bothered to write it down in policy anywhere?  Members of our group keep asking questions about rules, laws, accountability structures, and how they punish and control individuals and co-ops that don’t fall into line with expectations.  Mondragonians look at us as if we’re 5 years olds who haven’t learned the first thing about getting along with other people, dialogue, respect or trust.  They are speaking a language that even the most enlightened and progressive folk in our group find it difficult to grasp, because the society in which we live is so heavily determined by class, race and gender inequity, and our government and business structures are so corrupt, driven as they are by the demands of capital.  We have a loooooooooong way to go in the worker co-op movement in the US to attain anything like the integrity, openness and honesty that pertain in the Mondragon Cooperatives.

3)    The Board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives will be meeting at their annual retreat this week to discus the big ideas facing our movement in the US.

Today, I want to focus on one of the key differences between Mondragon and the world. I will also discuss the role of Agency in the United States (especially when it comes to community development and anti-poverty efforts) and finally discuss how we might start building a distributist society through a combination of distributist and syndicalist efforts. I invite people to jump into this conversation. Please post a comment and if your comment goes more than a couple of hundred words, then please register and ask me to assign you contributor status.

Basque Exceptionalism

It is easy to fall in love with Mondragon. It can also be easy to criticize them for not living up to the ideals of US intellectuals. But to answer the question, “Can we create Mondragon in the United States?” we need to consider some to the historical discussion. The first consideration responds to Rebecca’s comments by discussing the concept of Basque exceptionalsim.

The Basque people populate six provinces (two in France and four in Spain) in the Pyrenees mountain chain. They have lived there almost forever. This culture existed prior to the indo-Europeans. Some have even suggested that they are the fabled “Thirteenth Tribe of Israel”. The name for their people Euskerra simply means those who speak Basque. The Basque historically met under a tree in Guernica as the seat of their government. One of their primary goals in life has been to be left to govern themselves. This has been difficult due to their occupying a major trade route from Africa through the Iberian Peninsula and into northern Europe. In fact, as noted shipbuilders and sailors, the Spanish Armada set sail from Bilbao and it is likely given that I am “Black Irish” on my father’s side, that part of my lineage is from a Basque sailor rescued from the sea in 1585! Abutting the Basque is the medittereanean port of Barcelona, which had and still has a rich and vibrant history of anarchism and promoting the rights of the worker. This would not have been lost on the Basque especially during the civil war.

The point of all of this is that Mondragon is a Basque organization whose mission is to create and maintain jobs for the Basque. The worker-members share a common culture based on their historic ideal of self-governance and solidarity as well as a common religion (Catholicism). A religion that, despite its failings,  has a strong commitment (at least in their teachings) to education, the value of human life, and the value of work. The Basque also have a strong commitment to education. The Jesuit Order was founded by the Basque general turned priest Ignatius Loyola—who took his vows at the church overlooking Oñati just south of Arrasate (Mondragon). It was the Jesuits who fought against slave holders in South America seeking, instead, to create farmer collectives among the Guarni and thereby save their souls. The movie, The Mission, uses this struggle for worker and human rights as the backdrop for its story.

Finally, the role of Franco’s fascism and his Phalange Party cannot be dismissed. Had Franco lost the Spanish Civil War, Don José María Arizmendiaretta likely would have been assigned to Bilbao instead of Mondragon. A more liberal government might have created educational opportunities for the children of the working class and the specific conditions that gave rise to the FAGOR plant may never have materialized. Even so, by the time that Mondragon had formed, the economic vitalisty of the Phalange had already begun to wane. The Communists had re-grouped in the south and the Anarchists had reorganized in Barcelona. Franco simply had too many distractions to worry about a crazy priest and a group of people that could easily be called “entrepreneurs.”

We cannot dismiss the exceptional role that the Basque region and Spanish history played in the creation of Mondragon.

While the Basque certainly had some unique things going for them, we must also recognize the difficulties facing us in the United States when it comes to worker cooperatives. While the Basque live in a culture that goes back thousands of years and value the Basque community, the English speaking countries have a very different culture especially in how it relates to the value of humans and their work.  While, like the Federation in Star Trek, we may think that we have it all figured out, we need to take a hard look at our own culture to see why creating something like Mondragon will be such a struggle.

The next post will talk about how US culture (and perhaps that of the Americas as well) has created significant barriers to creating a workplace like Mondragon.

September 13, 2010

Is It Time for Neo-Distributism?

Filed under: Worker Rights — Tags: , , , , , , — John McNamara @ 3:01 pm

One of the joys of not actually being enrolled in a graduate program arises in the ability to actually read the assigned books from some of the classes! It isn’t that I didn’t complete my assisgnments, but often only a chapter or two were intended for the class. For instance, No Logo by Naomi Klein is a must read for anyone interested in how globalization really changed US manufacturing (and marketing).

The most recent book that I finished Jobs of Our Own by Race Matthews. This 1999 treatise (re-released in 2009 with a new forward) discusses the ignored ideas of G.K. Chesterton and his distrubists allies providing a nice history of the discourse between this group and the Fabian Society of George Bernard Shaw. Ultimately, the Fabians won the hearts and minds of the people and ushered in a remarkable 30 year period of economic stability under the prodding of Prime Minister Clement Atlee that saw the creation of the National Health Service, the Breton Woods Accord, and the dominance of Keynesian Economics.

It is a bit hard to argue that the Fabians had it wrong. The idea that the three legs of the stool (Trade Unions for Workers, Co-ops for consumers, and the Labour Party for citizen control of the commanding heights of the economy) still has a certain appeal. **  However, the Distributists had more far reaching ideas. They didn’t trust the State to control the economy. Led by their religious dogma and the Pope Leo XIII’s ecclesiastical, Rerum Novarum (On Capital and Labour), they sought a society of small owners in which power could not be concentrated into the hands of few, but distributed throughout the society. They never really go much further than this general idea largely because of their egos, untimely deaths, and an appalling antisemitism and racism that would eventually cause their movement to be disregarded.

Outside of England, however, this idea did take hold. Matthews work takes off when he discusses the work of the Maritime Canadian priests Jimmy Tompkins and Moses Coady. Together, these community organizers helped build a strong and powerful cooperative movement as well as a culture of adult education. Although, the movement did crash in the mid 1960’s due to systemic structural problems and was re-born as Co-op Atlantic.

One of Coady’s goals which he never lived to see was the idea of delivering education to working men and women in their homes. He saw that it was impossible to expect people to leave their jobs to attend classes. I am sure that he would be quite proud that Tom Webb, one of his successors as Director of the Extension Department at the University of St. Francis Xavier in Nova Scotia would create exactly such a program at the sister school of St. Mary’s University–the MMCCU. (I was surprised to see this footnote in the book as I consider Tom a mentor to me and never knew that held Coady’s position prior to St. Mary’s).

The book then turns to its true focus. The Antigonish Movement discovered what has come to be known at the rochdale cul-de-sac. Essentially, that co-operatives grow to a point where the membership must give up control to hired management. The co-op then begins to behave and act like any other store and the uniqueness of the co-opertive model becomes lost. It is Matthews argument that distributists can overcome the problems brought about through Agency Theory by engaging in a slightly different model of co-operation, namely the worker co-operative.

So it is, that Matthews ties the work of our favorite priest Don José María Arizmendiaretta to the distributist movement of Chesterton and Coady. The rise of Mondragon and its redefining the relations between capital and labor fit nicely into the edict of Rerum Novarum without creating the tyranny of the the worker over the consumer that the Fabians so feared. By giving workers a voice and participation in the management of the co-operative, the problems of the cul-de-sac get eliminated. In some of the Mondragon coops, there are mutli-stakeholder modes that provide space for several voices in the discussion. At a few years past 50, Mondragon has outlived the Antigonish Movement and remains a strong and fervent co-operative model.

Distributism, according to Matthews, works. It works exceptionally well provided that the workers enjoy a strong voice as workers in the organizations. Mondragon distributes the wealth throughout the basque region of Spain to its 180,000 members (I think that is the correct number). By creating a true ownership society, they created a sustainable marketplace that focuses on the value of the human being.

Is it time for us to take a second look at distributism? I’m still not quite sure. I think that Mondragon could also be considered an excellent example of syndicalism even if there isn’t a labor union involved. The point, however, is that capitalism displaced a workerable social contract without establishing a new social contract. Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand replaced the Noblesse Oblige. Keynes sought to soften the hand. The Fabian sought to re-invent the social contract through government ownership. Distributists and Syndicalists, in my opinion, seek to rewrite the social contract based on the individual civil and human rights. Perhaps the ideas of the Distributists could be folded into a Neo-Syndicalism creating a movement that uses both worker ownership and industrial unionism to meet the needs of the community and society by creating an ownership society of small owners, and recognizing when the scale of a project is too big for worker co-operative alone and requires an industrial union presence. Such a linking with Mondragon and the US Steelworkers may be the beginning of this new ideal.

But this time, we really need to document what it is!

**Thanks to Bob Cannell for that imagery.

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