Sunday, April 10, 2011

Other Critiques and Conclusions of Work and Organization at Mondragón

Hacker and Elcorobairutia (1987) argue that although Mondragón does facilitate better conditions for women – mainly as surpluses returned back to the community in the form of health, education, and welfare – “women’s place in noncapitalist workplaces is as disadvantaged as in capitalist workplaces” (p. 373). They attribute much of this problem to the dual responsibility women have for home and children that “supposedly excludes them from equal roles in participatory workplace or community democracy” (p. 374). However, women usually earn higher wages in Basque cooperatives than in private firms, although not on par with the men in such firms. Women also played a major role in the Ulgor strike, and after the strike was broken, two-thirds of the members fired were women (Kasmir 1996).

Anarchists have lobbied similar criticisms as those noted above at Mondragón. While observing approvingly that the fundamental nature of a capitalist enterprise – the monopolization of capital and control by use of hired labor – is subverted, management is still not elected directly by managers.[1] Additionally, Benello (1996) observes that most of Mondragón’s output is not designated for local consumption, it makes little effort to export its ideology outside of the complex to other firms, and is openly antagonistic (in fact, bans) unions. Even so, Benello argues that Mondragón is unique for its synthesis of both collective and individual interests, its very clear alternative to both capitalist and state-socialist modes of production, and for offering a strong model for both organization and decentralization (two highly-valued anarchist principles).

Mondragón has created a unique and valuable alternative to typical corporations by forming relatively autonomous cooperatives that are owned by the members who work in them and are run democratically by decisions made in elected councils. In the spirit of this cooperatism, the role of workplace democracy has been experimented with and implemented in varying ways with varying degrees of success. Many have argued that although there have been great victories won in terms of cooperative ownership, governance and (less-so) in the workplace, Mondragón is losing its cooperative nature and becoming more like other multinational corporations. In one key respect – un-elected management – Mondragón has always been like such mainstream corporations. Through all these changes, it continues to be one of the most discussed, praised, criticized, debated, and studied cooperative projects in recent human history, and its importance continues to grow.


[1] In fact, the mere existence of management hierarchy is, in this respect, problematic.


Benello, George. 1996. “The Challenge of Mondragon”. Pp. 211-220 in Reinventing Anarchy, Again, edited by H. J. Ehrlich. Edinburgh: AK Press.

Hacker, Sally L. and Clara Elcorobairutia. 1987. “Women Workers in the Mondragon System of Industrial Cooperatives”. Gender & Society, 1 (4), December: 358-379.

Kasmir, Sharryn. 1996. The Myth of Mondragón: Cooperatives, Politics, and Working-Class Life in a Basque Town. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

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