At Economix, Nancy Folbre writes about an agreement between the United Steelworkers and Spain’s Mondragon Cooperative to begin manufacturing cooperatives in the US and Canada.
The United Steelworkers is the largest industrial union in the United States, with 1.2 million workers. Its ranks have been devastated by the decline in domestic steel production, and it now represents workers in a variety of industries, including health and education.
With almost 100,000 workers, the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation (M.C.C.) is the seventh largest business group in Spain and the world’s largest workers’ cooperative. Its diverse enterprises, including manufacturing firms, a university, retail shops and financial institutions, are not only worker-owned; they are also democratically managed on the principle of one worker, one vote.
Unions have long been suspicious of worker-ownership proposals intended to co-opt organizing campaigns or as last-ditch efforts to rescue failing companies. But unions also have a long history of collaboration with worker co-ops, based on a broad set of shared values — commitments to democracy and solidarity.
And worker ownership represents an alternative to ineffectual collective bargaining…
The proposed Mondragon collaboration grew out of a United Steelworkers partnership with a Spanish wind turbine firm, Gamesa, to refit steel plants in Pennsylvania for wind-turbine manufacture. Mondragon could provide the organizational expertise and help raise the venture capital necessary to expand such initiatives…
This news is very encouraging. If the green jobs movement can be channelled through these cooperatives, it would really be an excellent stepping stone for a different type of economy. Mondragon is a great model for worker-controlled distribution of surplus value.
My only concern is whether the model will be culturally adaptable to fit the mores of blue collar America. Workplace democracy is something very few American workers are used to- we can’t pretend that unions truly offer it. I imagine that when workers see the benefits, they will embrace the model, but I hope some attention is paid to this issue.