Joe Guerricabeitia originally posted this on the Seattle Euskal Etxea website. I really enjoyed it and, with his permission, repost it here.
America is a nation of democracy. The Founding Fathers designed it so; Alexis de Tocqueville praised it. During the last half century America solidified this democracy such that every American man, woman and child was given the right to affect their lives through an equal right to vote. Still, for a nation which often touts its democratic roots as one if its hallmark characteristics, the idea of direct worker involvement in US corporate affairs is often branded as leftist, socialist and sometimes even categorically painted with the wide, red-brush of McCarthy’s communism.
Here in Washington state, where commercial aeronautics was born under the Boeing banner, some have argued that worker unions and their collective bargaining recently drove the big “B” to establish its second 787 Dreamliner production line in South Carolina, where amongst other things workers are not unionized.
This makes the increasing popularity of worker driven cooperative business models within the US, all the more interesting. Most notable has been the decision by the United Steel Workers Union to court and co-opt the Basque, worker-owned cooperative model of Mondragon Cooperative Corporation (MCC). The United Steel Workers Union, is after all, North America’s largest industrial trade union.
Following an age of corporate outsourcing and off-shore manufacturing plants US workers have looked to the world to find a sustainable model for future US growth and have landed right in our Aitxitxe (grandfather) and Amuma’s (grandmother’s) backyard. The US Steel workers have looked at the example set by the Basques of Mondragon and decided that the very same could be done here, and why not?
As Americans we are a nation of do-it-yourselfers (DIY’ers). We live by, “if you want something done right, do-it-yourself.” We are a proud nation of entrepreneurs, so well known for our creativity and that which is often described as the American Spirit, that every year foreign nationals inundate us with applications for work, and study visas. This spirit, is ingrained in us and has driven the proliferation of big-box DIY chains like Lowe’s and Home Depot. As Americans we swap home and automotive repair tips like baking recipes with our friends.
As Basques we are hard-working, family-centric people. We know our neighbors. In Euskadi and throughout the diaspora we have earned a reputation of ingenuity, pioneering spirit and hard work, all traits that carried us into new worlds either by boat or by plane, wherever there was work and opportunity available. Always with us we brought our traditions, our language and often times our families.
Mondragon’s cooperative work model is simply one of the oldest traditions, repackaged: the baserria. Like the ever-disappearing baserritarra (traditional farmer from a baserria [farmhouse]) could tell you the baserria was and in some cases still is a modern day worker-owned cooperative. Often centralized around families this microcosm of sustainability, traditionally revolved around farming and ranching but newer generations have hybridized this tradition by allowing the older generations to continue to farm and ranch as their forefathers had done, while the youth have pursued greater educational opportunities and a chance to join Euskal Herria’s burgeoning manufacturing and business sectors.
The “baserriak” cooperative model is not “new” to the US, only new to US workers. The cooperative model has always been with Basques even in the diaspora in the form our Euskal Etxeak or Basque Centers, where the economy of currency has been swapped for heritage and tradition, sport and dance, language and culinary delights.
To our American brothers and sisters we say, “Ongi etorri!” or Welcome! May the cooperative model work as well in for Americans as it has done for so long with the Basques.
Garaipena, neke askoren ondorena “Success is the result of a lot of hard work.”
In Cleveland, Worker Coops Look to a Spanish Model By Judith D. Schwartz from Time.com; 12/22/09; Accessed 12/28/09
US Seeks Inspirtaion in Basque Cooperative Model By I. H. – E. S. from, eitb.com; Published 12/28/09; Accessed 12/28/09
‘One Worker, One Vote:’ US Steelworkers to Experiment with Factory Ownership, Mondragon Style By Carl Davidson from, SolidarityEconomy.net; Published 10/27/09; Accessed 11/25/09