Between my many “extracurricular” (by which I just mean non-EFF work) activities last week, I met up with a group of people who shared my raging curiosity and interest in learning about cooperative businesses. We watched this BBC 1980 documentary on the Mondragon cooperative, which was only about 50 minutes long, but went into the history and structure of this one very large cooperative network in northern Spain in fairly good detail.
I’d already seen Shift Change, a solid movie that looks at various cooperative businesses around the United States (plus Mondragon as well). Despite me being already pretty convinced that cooperatives are a very viable model for enabling more sustainable enterprises that inherently concern itself with the well-being of its workers and communities in which they are based, I still felt like it portrayed too rosy a picture of cooperatives. When I was finished watching it, I had all kinds of lingering thoughts about their decision-making structure and the management process.
The 1980 BBC doc was pretty thorough about this aspect of Mondragon—how various teams elect a representative to the board, how human resources decisions are made, etc. It seems to work, but it seems like there’s a lot of room for experimentation depending on the size, the product, the location, and all kinds of other aspects of the enterprise.
I feel like I’m hearing more and more rumblings about cooperative, co-owned businesses, and that’s really exciting. The more people start to talk about coops, the more it begins to permeate expectations around new businesses, and at the very least, makes for-profit corporations seems less and less like a sustainable, worthy enterprise, and more like the extractive, parasitic institutions like they are.