In late October 2009, the United Steelworkers (USW), Mondragon International and its North America delegation, Mondragon International North America (MINA), decided to collaborate to create equal access to equal share ownership through manufacturing-based enterprises in line with Mondragon’s principles, global footprint and 60 years of experience. On March 26, 2012, after more than two years of research preparations and feedback from around the country, the USW, Mondragon International North America, the Ohio Employee Ownership Center (OEOC) and leaders from America’s major cooperative institutions announced the formal union co-op template at the USW headquarters in Pittsburgh. In January 2014, faced with the need to create more integration and capacity to address exploding nationwide interest, ten co-founders launched the nonprofit www.1worker1vote.org platform.
The hybrid union co-op model features a progressive collective bargaining agreement combined with the Mondragon principles under Mondragon’s “one worker, one vote” framework. Since 2009 and intensely following the 2012 announcement, interest in the union co-op movement has spread to U.S. cities nationwide under the leadership of entrepreneurial local self-help organizations such as the Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative (CUCI) which is fast becoming an inclusive innovation reference for many municipal community organizers, foundations and governments. Multiple U.S. unions in multiple business sectors are currently working with this model. Examples of creative collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) empowering the union co-op model are available on an open-source basis through CUCI and 1worker1vote.org (both organizations share co-founders). The Shift Change documentary that evolved in large part from these Mondragon-centric relationships continues to be shown widely throughout North America to receptive New Economy audiences.
After years of preparation, the strategic and tactical banking relationship between Mondragon’s Laboral Kutxa bank and U.S. National Cooperative Bank (NCB) launched in September 2013 and is gaining institutional and private sector clients. In May 2014, 1worker1vote.org began the process of introducing Mondragon University’s “Social Economy & Cooperative Enterprise” online course led by Mondragon University Professor, Fred Freundlich, to U.S. academic institutions. An MOU was recently signed by the City University of New York (CUNY), Mondragon University and 1worker1vote.org with a first launch of the program planned for New York City.
Also in 2015, 1worker1vote.org has intensified an ideas and values exchange with the Freelancers Union to “build a more mutualist ecosystem for social change” in terms of creative products and services in a sharing economy revolving around hubs, networks, affiliations and relationships. Additionally, Harvard Business School will soon be publishing a business case study and video on Mondragon and 1worker1vote.org.
In the past three months, we’ve been interviewed by parliamentarians and civic thought leaders from Australia, Sweden, Italy, United Kingdom, Argentina, Ukraine, Columbia, Canada and France about our approach. Our model pays homage to the Rochdale Partners in the 1840s where and when unions and cooperatives started on the same page (“Rochdale is the birthplace of the Co-operative Movement. The Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society, founded in 1844, was the first modern cooperative; the Rochdale Principles are a set of ideals for cooperatives.”)
Our viewpoint is that while union and cooperative paths have evolved into mostly autarchic and parallel realities over the past 200 years, they started on the same page and now it’s time to put them back together.
1worker1vote.org is an empowering network that flows through its 10 co-founders, multiple allies and networks to help create and support leadership circles in each of our active city ecosystems. We focus on projects that can scale and on ecosystem development that nurtures and empowers. More than 85 percent of the people we work with are under age 40 who want to take back their respective economies, infuse “sharing” with “equity, justice,and fairness,” and recapture indigenous local economic sovereignty. We’re working very closely with Mondragon University to attract younger generations to coops in North America and to inspire these activists to embrace Mondragon values, humbly attempting to follow the example of Father Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta 60 years ago when he began his pursuit of collaboration and cooperation in a mountainous, rural region devastated by two wars, poverty and unemployment.
1worker1vote.org operates as a catalytic swarm with a horizontal structure. We inspire, support, pitch-in when needed in venture roles, and bring key talent from our networks to the table, but mostly build coalitions and engender local ecosystems. It’s a full-time, volunteer mission but the results are both heartening and heartwarming. We focus on hybrid models, starting with the union co-op model because we believe that the “reconciliation of opposites,” to use Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s phrase, is key to today’s New Economy challenges. Accordingly, we are strongly dedicated to inclusivity, not only through “pathways out of poverty” but insisting on more impact through “pathways to prosperity” again, using the Mondragon principles and experience base. We help to reflect on and develop private sector, boot-strapping, organically growing, wealth creating ecosystems for both workers and their communities under a “one worker, one vote” framework.
The “legitimacy” behind the union co-op model is really proven through the sustaining businesses and jobs that are created and in that effort we have the world before us but with more examples to point to every single day. We are very grateful for the leadership provided by the United Steelworkers as evidenced in their recent Constitutional Resolution Number 27: Worker Ownership and Workers Capital (August 2014).
Our goal is to bring as many alternate labor and organized labor communities as possible into the worker owner quadrant focusing on sustaining enterprises. We intend to align these start-ups and hybrids with triple bottom-line business advocacy leaders such as the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), the Social Venture Network (SVN) and the New Economy Coalition (NEC) as well as with cooperative multinationals and commercial neighborhood banks and credit unions.
We’ve barely scratched the surface and believe the U.S. domestic inequality and opportunity debate is trending our way on a bipartisan basis where we hope to meet and enlarge Democracy’s civic equity middle but to the benefit of local worker-owner stakeholders as well as to their communities and families.
We prize inclusivity, transparency, collaboration, professional excellence, and follow-up and follow-through diligence. We believe that ownership is the ineluctable human and democratic system condition. The transforming way forward for all of us rising from paycheck dependency to enterprise equity is to “own our labor and rent our capital,” not the reverse.