Mondragon and the Steelworkers

Today was my first full day in Pittsburgh. By coincidence, it was also the day that Mondragon Internacional and the United Steelworkers announced their intention to work together to build worker ownership in North America. This is extremely interesting news, and probably also extremely big news. I haven’t had time to digest it yet, but I’m planning to take advantage of my location and go downtown for a little visit to the USW HQ. Meanwhile, here is the press release, which says it about as well as I could say it myself…

Steelworkers Form Collaboration with MONDRAGON, the World’s Largest Worker-Owned Cooperative

Pittsburgh (Oct. 27, 2009) – The United Steelworkers (USW) and MONDRAGON Internacional, S.A. today announced a framework agreement for collaboration in establishing MONDRAGON cooperatives in the manufacturing sector within the United States and Canada.  The USW and MONDRAGON will work to establish manufacturing cooperatives that adapt collective bargaining principles to the MONDRAGON worker ownership model of “one worker, one vote.”

“We see today’s agreement as a historic first step towards making union co-ops a viable business model that can create good jobs, empower workers, and support communities in the United States and Canada,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard.  “Too often we have seen Wall Street hollow out companies by draining their cash and assets and hollowing out communities by shedding jobs and shuttering plants.  We need a new business model that invests in workers and invests in communities.”

Josu Ugarte, President of MONDGRAGON Internacional added: “What we are announcing today represents a historic first – combining the world’s largest industrial worker cooperative with one of the world’s most progressive and forward-thinking manufacturing unions to work together so that our combined know-how and complimentary visions can transform manufacturing practices in North America.”

Highlighting the differences between Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) and union co-ops, Gerard said, “We have lots of experience with ESOPs, but have found that it doesn’t take long for the Wall Street types to push workers aside and take back control.  We see Mondragon’s cooperative model with ‘one worker, one vote’ ownership as a means to re-empower workers and make business accountable to Main Street instead of Wall Street.”

Both the USW and MONDRAGON emphasized the shared values that will drive this collaboration.  Mr. Ugarte commented, “We feel inspired to take this step based on our common set of values with the Steelworkers who have proved time and again that the future belongs to those who connect vision and values to people and put all three first. We are excited about working with Mondragon because of our shared values, that work should empower workers and sustain families and communities,” Gerard added.

In the coming months, the USW and MONDRAGON will seek opportunities to implement this union co-op hybrid approach by sharing the common values put forward by the USW and MONDGRAGON and by operating in similar manufacturing segments in which both the USW and MONDRAGON already participate.

The full text of the Agreement is available at http://assets.usw.org/Releases/agree_usw_mondragon.pdf

There was apparently a conference call which provided more information, and I’m still trying to track down a transcript or recording for more information. Meanwhile, here is some intrepid liveblogging from my friend and fellow St. Mary’s MMCCU student (go Huskies!) John McNamara.

This is such a huge story that I’m not going to even try to digest it today. But it certainly casts some new light on my efforts to see what Mondragon and the Rust Belt has to teach Sacramento. Stay tuned…

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4 Responses to Mondragon and the Steelworkers

  1. If you’re in Pittsburgh for a few days, I’d be glad to meet up and fill you in on what we’re doing. I’m out of town for a couple days, but will be back in the office on Friday.

  2. Tino Scalici says:

    This is so inspirational… I wonder how the new system will play out? I have heard many ideas over a period of time relating to revitalizing domestic industry like little upstart manufacturing firms like scooters, bicycles, clothing, , printing presses, you name it. Could individuals or small groups approach USW/Mondragon for capital loans for these upstarts- following Mondragon’s lead in Spain?

  3. coopgeek says:

    Tino – It’s going to take a day or two before I can get another post up with a solid account of today’s meeting with United Steelworkers. However, here’s the short answer to your question: USW seems to be be very interested in hearing serious proposals, so anyone with a factory that could be converted into a worker co-op is welcome to approach them. This should ideally include a business plan with a plausible market for whatever is produced.

    The sources of capital still need to be worked out, but my impression is that it is worth asking. On the other hand, a key part of worker ownership is worker investment, so a potential project will be greatly strengthened by some sort of plan for coming up with your own capital.

    There are lots of details still to be worked out, but that’s my current impression.

    More soon…

  4. yochai says:

    This is very exciting, indeed!
    Let me also say that I am most happy to find this site — there are very few blogs out there dedicated to coops! I work for one in the bay area, so I’ll be sure to forward it around.

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