Mondragon, Cleveland, Sacramento

I’m about to embark upon a month of travel in Spain and the Rust Belt.

In Spain’s Basque Country, I’ll be spending ten days studying Mondragon, which is the world’s largest and most complex system of worker ownership. It has grown into an industrial group that is among the largest in Europe. It includes a bank, medical and educational systems, social security, and much more. It employs more than 100,000 people, and has consistently outperformed the rest of the Spanish economy. It weathered Spain’s severe recession in the 1980s without resorting to layoffs. It is based on shared ownership and democratic control. Mondragon is not perfect, but it seems to work and provides an extremely useful model.

When I get back from Spain, I’ll be visiting the Rust Belt. This is the United States’ old manufacturing heartland and the region that has been most severely struck by the continuing collapse of our manufacturing sector. I’ll be spending time in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit.

I will also be visiting other places, but those three are the big ones. These cities have seen better days, and they have also seen worse days. Each has experienced some form of economic collapse, and in varying ways they have all clawed their ways back from the brink.

I’m looking for what lessons these cities, synonymous with urban grit and struggle, might have for my hometown.

Sacramento is facing its own economic train wreck. Our main industries (agriculture, government, real estate) are under increasing downward pressure. It’s too early to tell if this is a permanent collapse like that of the Rust Belt, but there are a lot of empty and half-built buildings; fallow fields, dry canals, and dead orchards; and a state fiscal crisis that seems to have no end in sight, and which affects this capital city like nowhere else.

I want to find out what Pittsburgh did to hasten its recovery. I want to learn from Cleveland how the community’s leadership has begun to mobilize around the cooperative model. I want to see what is coming from the grassroots in Detroit.

Cleveland is an especially interesting case for me, because it is the first example of a major city trying to reproduce Mondragon. Last October, the Cleveland Foundation sponsored a study trip to Mondragon, and then led an initiative that has already opened Evergreen Cooperative Laundry as the first of a planned network of worker-owned businesses linked by cooperative financing.

I hope we can learn from the Rust Belt, and proceed more rapidly toward community-based solutions that have taken a generation to gather steam in the Rust Belt.

We are all now reeling from the nationwide economic calamity caused by last year’s banking crisis, so there is a greater need than ever to find new ways of doing business beside the way that got us into this mess. Cooperative economics may not be the only solution to Sacramento’s economic problems, but it seems like a key part of it.

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10 Responses to Mondragon, Cleveland, Sacramento

  1. Very good reporting on impressions of scales, persons, weariness – “Unclle” – and the like. Do you have time to report on substance? For example, whet is happening to employees in firms MMC owns and operates as regular capitalist businesses? Or what is the curriculium at Alecoop these days? [for instance, do students have freedom to design their own degrees?} You get my point I;m sure. More depth, please!

  2. coopgeek says:

    Great questions. Unfortunately, I’ve been a bit behind on everything so blogging has not been as detailed as I would like. I am still working on further writing, and typing up my notes. Once I get them done, I’ll post them as a document here with the caveat that I’m not the greatest note-taker and its taken me a month to finish working through my 47 pages of scrawl, so there might be inaccuracies here and there.

    But as for your specific questions: Lots of different things are happening in the MCC subsidiaries; each co-op makes its own decisions about whether and how to manage this topic. And the Alecop curriculum seemed to be very flexible, and very much based on what the student wants to do; I even heard that students can come and go from the program as suits their needs.

  3. August says:


    I have a question!

    These Cleveland coops, are they run democratically (one worker-one vote) as the coops of Mondragon?


  4. coopgeek says:

    From what I understand, they are still in a transition toward democracy as workers are trained.

  5. Pennie says:

    I live in Seattle and am interested in what you are learning along the way. I am originally from (and have family in) Cleveland and have an interest in what’s possible in Seattle as well. I am in Cle through 4/4 and would be interested in visiting locations/people for my own research if possible.

    Are you familiar with Thomas Greco and his work on monetary systems?

  6. coopgeek says:

    I’m not familiar with Thomas Greco. There’s an awful lot of interesting thought out there.

    As for Cleveland, I don’t know of any contacts beside the Cleveland Foundation, which seems to be a better approach for big picture stuff than the co-ops themselves (which are pretty fixated on operations right now).

    If you make it down to Kent, definitely check out the Ohio Employee Ownership Center at Kent State:

  7. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » The Cleveland Model and Micromanufacturing: An Opportunity for Collaboration?

  8. Kevin Carson says:

    You might be interested in my recent post at the P2P Foundation Blog on the Cleveland Model, and how it could benefit from integrating 1) the micromanufacturing movement and 2) microenterprise in the informal/household economy.

    The basic ideas are that both micromanufacturing technology and home-based enterprises maximize the bang for the buck in community bootstrapping. Since they require little in the way of capital outlays or overhead, they’re ideal for the kind of “import replacement” Jane Jacobs described. Garage factories, using homebrew CNC machine tools, can produce most consumer goods with a reduction of two orders of magnitude in capital outlay costs (an open-source router, milling machine, lathe, cutting table, 3-D printer, induction furnace, etc., can be built for under $10k total). And the household microenterprise (e.g. the microbakery using ordinary household oven, unlicensed cab using family car and cell phone, home beauty salon or daycare, etc.) operates with virtually zero overhead because it relies on “spare cycles” of ordinary capital goods most people would own anyway. In both cases, the low capital outlays and overhead are an amazing source of resilience, because no low overhead means very little revenue stream is required to service it–and hence the ability to ride out long periods of slow business without digging a hole of debt.

  9. Pingback: El modelo Evergreen

  10. Pingback: Orthodoxy and Marxism - Page 2 - Christian Forums

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