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