[Marxism] [Pen-l] for Mondragon fans...

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Nov 7 17:53:25 MST 2009

Jim Devine wrote:
> Check out this great piece by Carl Davidson on the joint project of
> Mondragon and the United Steel Workers to create worker-owned and -run
> coops in the U.S.  Such good news about an alternative, pro-worker way
> to grow our economy out of this recession:
> http://beavercountyblue.org/2009/11/04/steelworkers-seek-job-creation-via-worker-owned-factories/

Critique of Anthropology, Dec 1999; vol. 19: pp. 379 - 400

The Mondragón Model as Post-Fordist Discourse: Considerations on the 
Production of Post-Fordism

by Sharryn Kasmir

This article is intended as a contribution to the ethnography of con- 
temporary capitalism. I analyze the case of the Mondragón cooperative 
model and consider what its international fame tells us about the regime 
of post-Fordism. I explore the constitution of the Mondragón model 
through the singular discourse of labor–management cooperation. I show 
how the model is produced by the discursive practices of omission and 
decontextualization. Mondragón can only be constructed as an alternative 
to and critique of capitalism if (1) workers’ experiences are erased; 
(2) politics are marginalized; and (3) the cooperatives are 
de-territorialized from the global economic context. By pro- viding the 
missing contexts, I offer a competing narrative, portraying cooperation 
as a class-interested discourse that undermines workers’ power. My 
account of how the Mondragón model was produced is a revealing case of 
the production of global capitalist discourses in a period of economic 
and ideological shifts to post-Fordism.

"Visit Mondragón and other cooperatives in Spain with a group of North 
Americans concerned about the future of our economies. Corporate 
restructuring, changes in technology, trade policy and global 
competition continue to result in absentee-owned manufacturing 
facilities moving to lower-wage states and third-world countries. Join 
other North Americans concerned about their communities where this 
globalization of work, capital flight and changes in corporate strategy 
are resulting in net job losses, wage reductions, plant closings and 
increased poverty.

"... Can vast productivity gains and profits in the high-tech 
marketplace be organized to provide more families with good jobs? . . . 
Can we develop a creative alternative to unemployment’s social 
consequences: depression, crime, alcoholism, family breakdown, abuse of 
women and children? And an alternative to unemployment’s economic costs ....

"Investigate a successful alternative: the Mondragón group of 
large-scale, high-tech, industrial and community-based companies.... 
Worker-owners have built a large democratically-controlled complex where 
they experience dignified work which is strategically and socially 
anchored in their communities. The[y] benefit themselves through wages, 
pensions, growth of their capital investments in their own diversified 
groups of companies and job security. Worker owners’ self interest has 
also led them to make the necessary investments in technical education 
and occupational retraining needed for competitive, technological 
change. They have not suffered the growing and polarizing income and 
skill inequality of North American workers."

(Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center Web Page <http://ourworld. 

This advertisement for a study tour of the Mondragón cooperatives is 
posted on the World Wide Web by Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center 
(IJPC), a non-profit, religious organization whose mission is to promote 
social and economic justice. IJPC considers the Mondragón cooperative 
group, located in the Basque region of Spain, to be a primary model for 
economic-justice-oriented business and is dedicated to replicating 
Mondragón-style cooperation in the United States. IJPC is hardly alone 
among liberal and progressive groups in its attention to Mondragón. 
Tours are tailored for activists, planners and scholars who are 
interested in creating cooperatives in underdeveloped or 
deindustrialized regions, applying the lessons of Mondragón to 
ex-communist economies, or seeing the inter- nationally renowned 
cooperatives for themselves.2 Mondragón has been constituted as a 
world-wide economic tourist attraction for those who criticize 
capitalism’s excesses and seek a more just economy.

Paradoxically, Mondragón is also a destination for corporate executives 
who are determined to restructure labor–management relations and rein- 
vigorate profits. For example, in 1989, while I was conducting fieldwork 
in Mondragón,3 a management team from Polaroid arrived to visit the 
co-operatives. Polaroid was considering offering a stock option plan to 
its employees. Their tour guide, a manager in the cooperative system, 
told me that the team members’ mission was to determine if they could 
transfer ownership without yielding power to employees. The Polaroid 
team hoped to find in Mondragón a model for using ownership to control 
employees. Like social-justice-minded scholars and activists, Polaroid 
managers too were inspired by Mondragón.

This incongruous confluence of interests in Mondragón raises important 
questions: How are we to understand the ubiquitous appeal of the 
Mondragón cooperative model? Why would multinational corporate 
executives and justice-oriented activists, community-based economic 
developers and pro-worker academicians prefer the same business model? 
How might the search for ‘kinder’ or more ‘compassionate’ capitalism, 
which leads liberals and progressives to Mondragón, be inflected by 
corporate interest in the cooperatives?

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