by Phil Amadon and Kristen Barker (Cincinnati Union Co-op Initiative)
The failure of Fagor Electrodomesticos (FE) and the beginning successes of the union co-op movement inspired by the Mondragon–United Steelworker agreement in 2009 are two sides of the same coin. The majority of the working class around the world seems to know more clearly than any other social group that economic disaster is not only possible but probable in our modern day global economy. The failure of FE may frighten some, but workers who know the facts take strong comfort in the solidarity that the FE worker owners have been shown by their compatriots in the rest of Mondragon.
The failure of FE to many working class activists is not surprising. What is remarkable is the success of the efforts to relocate, find early retirement, or give support to the FE worker owners. The level of aid and support in real money, job offers, and retirement benefits far outweighs the usual response to a plant shutdown in the US or in many other places in the world. We know that businesses will fail and that cooperatives will go under. The international cooperative movement must learn from Mondragon, how to give real aid, comfort, and solidarity support to our brothers and sisters who will be the victims of these inevitable business failures.
We understand that some people in Mondragon are afraid that their cooperative system no longer works properly. We, in the heart of the most powerful capitalistic country on earth, respectfully disagree. In the United States, working people have witnessed plant closings and economic displacement over and over again without any solidarity or real help for the workers who suffer. When we see a real effort to help people get back on their feet after an inevitable failure we are impressed. Because of the uneven development of modern capitalism, a multi-sector association of co-ops is the only form of cooperative organization that can take advantage of opportunities in certain sectors and buffer periodic crisis in other sectors, thereby protecting workers who are suffering from crisis in any one sector of the economy.
Without the Mondragon model of a cooperative of many cooperatives tied together by organization, monetary relations, and common rules and practices, we are left with individual co-ops which will flounder on their own sinking in a sea of economic hardship with no one to help them except for people throwing platitudes rather than actual life preservers. Many people in the U.S. cooperative movement cry out for autonomy, individuality, independence when the seas are smooth, but when a ship starts sinking in heavy seas, the watchwords are unity, solidarity, and survival.
Finally, a word on capital. Many in the international worker cooperative movement have known clearly for over 150 years that worker owned cooperatives would always have a rough time raising capital. We would argue that the search for growth and the search for expanding opportunities for the international cooperative movement cannot be based solely on the search for money but must be based on the search for more allies integrated in a broader co-op movement, based on Mondragon principles, across many countries.