continuing: Mondragon and more


Richard Moore

Bcc: contributors

From: Steve Campbell
Date: 9 September 2009 16:24:08 IST
To: Richard K Moore <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Mumford and Utopias

Hi Richard,

Got this from Bob Taft awhile back.  About the Mondragon example in Spain.  Worth looking into.

Hi Steve,

Many thanks for bringing this to my attention. I highly recommend the video:
The Mondragon Experiment part 1

     Worker Cooperatives in the Basque Country
     Horizon documentary

I had heard good things about Mondragon, from many sources, but I didn’t really know how it worked or how it came into being. The video makes all of that clear. It’s a very inspiring story, and a very strong model that could be adopted elsewhere. And certainly this documentary has got to be the ideal, concise introduction for anyone who wants to learn more about Mondragon.

I also found it interesting how many principles were in common between Mondragon and the Credit Bank development model. In both, the bank is central, in starting up and supporting enterprises. They are both based on local & motivated sources of funding, and autonomous worker co-ops. Both have the concept of secondary co-ops, set up to to provide support services and cost-savings for primary co-ops and their members. Both emphasize production for export as one component of economic viability. Nearly every one of the elements in the Mondragon world was suggested in the Credit Bank document. 

The Credit Bank model was developed from first principles, by simply thinking about how various problems might arise, how they might be dealt with, what new problems the solutions would create, etc, until convergence occurred. I tend to be pretty good at that kind of thinking. It’s a lot like doing computer software. Every line of code is dealing with some eventuality that might arise. It appears that in this case I was re-inventing a wheel, a wheel that is already in a refined stage of development off in the Basque country.

So I suppose I can adopt Mondragon as my ‘favorite economic model’ to point to. It’s there, it’s working, and it has a sound philosophy behind it. No need to invent a new one. Also, it carries the worker-ownership model further than I did. A lot more of the funding comes from co-op members and workers themselves. I like that, but I didn’t know if it was feasible.

I especially like their decision to limit individual co-ops to 500 members. Scale is the elephant in the kitchen in most people’s theories. People think of systems too often as if size doesn’t matter. In Mondragon they learned that if a single operation gets too big, it becomes problematic to maintain harmony and consensus.

I think it is interesting that the Mondragon system has remained, at least when the video was made, within the Basque region. It seems to me that we’d want to see independent ‘Mondragons’ spring up elsewhere, rather than Mondragon becoming a global operation with subsidiaries. Just as there are ‘natural’ limits to membership in a single co-op enterprise, so there would be similar limits as to how many co-ops are under a single administrative umbrella.

The relationship of ‘hierarchy’ to Mondragon is very important. There are boards of directors, and decision-making is delegated to those elected directors. One could imagine power being abused in some way. But the board members are ordinary workers, elected from within their own places of work. 

Rather than being a ‘seat of power’, the board is a place of ‘special responsibility’, to make the best decisions for the business and the workers. The board members convene in the mornings, and return to their regular jobs in the afternoon. In this way there are informal feedback loops from workers generally, as the board members chat with their mates on the job.

Given Mondragon as a starting point, there are some questions that arise. Why isn’t Mondragon making use of any kind of local currency? Why hasn’t the Mondragon model been adopted elsewhere in the world? To what extent does the Mondragon model provide a basis for civil self-governance?

As regards local currency, I suppose they just haven’t needed it. They found sufficient capitalization as people joined the co-op and bought shares. It would be useful to know if a local currency could have accelerated their progress. It would also be useful to know if their bank uses a fractional reserve system.

Why hasn’t the model been emulated? Mondragon was initially created out of the efforts of Father José María Arizmendiarrieta, an inspired visionary who was in a position to move his ideas forward in the community. But his task – doing something for the first time – was more difficult than the task of promoting the introduction of an idea that has been proven in practice. Nonetheless, I suppose a strong element of local initiative and leadership would be a requirement for the model to be imported. 

As regards governance, it is easy to imagine the various public agencies of a city – public transport, utility operations, fire department, road-maintenance crews – all operating as separate worker co-ops, with their own incentive programs based on performance and efficiency instead of profit. As an organizational structure, these co-ops have proven to be efficient and productive, as well as being internally harmonious.

Already, Mondragon has schools, insurance operations, banking, housing, etc, under its wing. If all of this had been built in some isolated area, one could easily imagine Mondragon incorporating as a city of its own. 

In some sense, the only part of local governance that does not fit into the co-op model is City Hall: the functions of the Mayor and the City Council. And even here the Mondragon model has something to offer. 

As I mentioned, the board members of each co-op are for the most part regular workers, elected by their fellow workers, and who continue working while serving on the board. And in the secondary / service co-ops, such as the bank, the boards include members elected from the primary co-ops. In other words, the ‘board paradigm’ of Mondragon brings in all the stakeholders, its members are drawn from ‘ordinary people’, and it seems from the video that they work toward consensus in their decisions. 

It seems to me that a ‘community governance board’, organized on these principles would make a great deal of sense. Mondragon has demonstrated that this structure provides efficiency without introducing a dominating hierarchy. Just as they have no need of a supervisor role in their factories, they have no need of a politician role in their decision making. The top is connected directly to the bottom, and everyone’s motivation is in harmony. 

thanks again steve,

From: “Madeline Bruce”
Date: 14 September 2009 16:22:00 IST
Subject: Re: the dialog continues…

There has to be face-to-face, and regular meetings of small or smallish groups of people. But how? Salons. People used to have salons, and to be included was a coup. (See: Remembrance of Things Past, by Marcel Proust) It is a universal need to be a desired member of a group. That can be tapped into. I myself, being a woman, am shying away from some of the neighborhood associations in my area because men have taken the leadership positions, and cling on to them, and leave the women to do the grunt work and the drudgery. I have raised my family. I am finished with that. Any other women out there who feel like this? – Madeline Bruce, Nanaimo, B. C.


From: Andrew MacDonald 
Date: 15 September 2009 02:45:28 IST
Subject: Re: dialog re/ Utopias and transformation

Hi Richard

Enjoying the cyberposts. A few quick thoughts. 
I love what the Ashland Wisdom Council was a taste of (from the reports) and think that people getting together physically with a robust meeting format that allows for individuals to really be heard and also get out there could be tremendously effective. Open Space technology is one such. I loved my one foray into same. 
One theme that’s up for me I see echoed back to me on Cyberjournal; it’s the difference between having a theory about what’s wrong with the world, and actually doing something to better it. The theory is often kvetching . . . it’s right but doesnt move us forward. I recognize how frustrating it is when one doesn’t know what to do. And who does? One alternative is to get a small group together and ask the open ended questions. Amazing how smart the collective we are when summoned. 
Here in rural Ontario Canada, I’m excited by our fledgling efforts to get bodies in the room around open ended questions that  start to build something now and here. Our modest monthly meetings around the future have prompted spin-offs in a number of ways. One direction for our future is “bees” in which folks come together to do things, learn from each other, building community along the way. My point is that discussions of what’s wrong can’t make up for the fun stuff of doing “right”eous stuff together. 
I really have the sense that the answers we need emerge when folks get together and struggle with all this. Thinking about it alone, not so much. 
Andrew MacDonald

Hi Andrew,
Thanks for writing. It’s very encouraging to hear about positive things being pursued at the local level. I’m also pleased that we’ve gotten so many thoughtful contributions on this thread.

Open Space and Dynamic Facilitation are complementary to one another, and the facilitators I know use both in different circumstances. As you know, OS is great when you have a lot of people. It allows the group to self-organize around it’s own priorities and do many things in parallel. DF is for a smaller group, for a more focused and intense kind of session, and it takes considerable time. For a Wisdom Council, there should really be four days, although most of them have been less than that due to external time constraints.

When I talk about ‘what’s wrong with the world’, my purpose is to show what won’t work, if our goal is to improve our situation. My belief is that there are plenty of activists out there who know the system is broken, and are trying to do something about it. But because they don’t quite understand how broken the system is, and in how many ways it’s broken, too many of them are pursuing cul de sacs.

My writing is always for activists, and potential activists, never for ‘educating the masses’. If that happens, it’s just a side-effect. There are already plenty of good people tending that chore.

I recognize how frustrating it is when one doesn’t know what to do. And who does? One alternative is to get a small group together and ask the open ended questions. Amazing how smart the collective we are when summoned. 

Yes, this is the lifetime thesis of Tom Atlee, with his Co-intelligence Institute. Any group of ordinary people, using common sense, can exhibit collective wisdom if they can get into the space of open collaboration. Each one of us has a whole lifetime of experiences, learnings, dreams, etc. ‘Ordinary’ refers to a lack of pretentiousness, not a state of ignorance. When we start blending our energy, instead of canceling it out in competitive debate, all that richness of experience becomes available in the ‘collective mind’, as we consider the problems before us.

Here in rural Ontario Canada, I’m excited by our fledgling efforts to get bodies in the room around open ended questions that  start to build something now and here. … My point is that discussions of what’s wrong can’t make up for the fun stuff of doing “right”eous stuff together. 

There is no need whatever to know ‘what is wrong’ in order to proceed with what needs to be done. Building strong communities is a purely positive thing, and it involves only local issues. There is no need to have an understanding of geopolitics, media deception, global finance, etc. 

And then there are all those activists working on something other than building strong communities. Those are the ones, as I see it, who need to know more about the world, so they’ll realize communities is where our focus needs to be.

I really have the sense that the answers we need emerge when folks get together and struggle with all this. Thinking about it alone, not so much. 

Yes the answers will emerge, if the folks get together in an appropriate way. But more than that, the ‘getting together’ is itself the answer that needs to emerge

The problem is tyranny, and the answer is democracy. People ‘getting together’ so that their ‘answers can emerge’ is what democracy is. The ‘answers’ – the solutions to local problems – are the minor outcome, the immediate outcome. The major outcome, the transformative outcome, is the process of getting together as a way of running our communities.

I’d be quite interested to learn more about what’s going on in your local efforts. Are you thinking at all about Transition-Town concepts? Local currencies? What kind of ideas are being tossed around? Do you know about Mondragon?



From: Brian Hill
Date: 15 September 2009 04:05:03 IST
To: Richard Moore <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: the dialog continues…

Richard, you say, ‘I continue to look for the missing X, whatever it might be, that is preventing all the existing X’s from actually changing the system.’

The one missing X?  Free yourself of monocultural anchors.  Couldn’t there be many, like a process, a new season of Xs?  What I have been dreaming of for many years is the so-called quantum leap that Einstein talked about.  Like, sometime we, as a global culture, will reach critical mass and we’ll click into the new existential world view.  Harmony will replace competition…

Hi Brian,

Yes clicking into a new world view, based on a critical mass. That’s very much along the same lines as the Ice 9 crystallization concept.

Yes, there could be many X’s, or there could be some special combination of them. If you’re guessing what might happen, that’s as good a guess as any. But so far I haven’t seen any evidence of an X or many X’s in existence. No seed that is showing signs of blossoming in a appropriate way. 

Everywhere I see parts of solutions, each encountering major obstacles of one kind or another. So I continue to search for ‘what is needed’. In fact, X will probably turn out to be a catalyst, or a leavening, rather than a substantive ingredient. A straw, that doesn’t deserve credit for breaking the camel’s back. 



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