Voices of Mondragon

Voices of Mondragon March 17, 2020

Image via PositiveNews.org

David Herrera is a retired professor of education at the University of San Diego. In 2000, he was on one of his several visits to the city of Mondragon in order to do interviews for a doctoral dissertation on the dynamics of worker participation in decision-making at the Mondragon cooperatives. His methodology included interviews with a number of Mondragon employees whose responses he noticed sometimes had a kind of lyrical quality. They also convey something of the spirit of cooperativism, a much larger thing than simple employment.

Voices of Mondragon — A Poetic Transcription

“What is the essence of Mondragon?”
“What is the Mondragon experience?”
“What is its soul?”
You ask.
This I am not able to say,
Not at this time …
But I know I can tell you
What it all means to me.

I’ll never be rich,
I’ll never be poor.
I’ll have all I need
And most that I want
And I’ll have enough.
At least I will know
The work that I do
Will not just result
In having a few
Who already are rich
Get even richer!

We started small
Five men and a priest
(Don Josémaría
He was called),
Plus some others whose names are now lost.
Times were hard,
Resources few,
But trust, people had,
In these men
And their cause:
Jobs, education, better living for all.
My dad and his friends
Borrowed money
Mortgaged their homes,
And worked extra hours
To help with this venture:
A dream of a few, a hope of so many.
The idea was old
The meaning was new:
Treat your neighbor as yourself,
This now meant:
Solidarity —
In a system of justice that gives all a share.

I can have a say
About most things.
And this, I like
Though sometimes
I don’t say anything …
Yet I know that
Where I work,
Nothing important happens without my vote.

One member / one vote
Is a rule, we say,
That gives us equality.
I know this is true
But, in my view,
What also makes us equal is that
My boss and I
Can talk about anything,
We may disagree,
We may even fight.
And then we part ways,
Meet on the street,
At the square,
Or at church,
Have a drink,
Have a talk.
Friends we still are, nothing has changed.

I am proud to be an owner
Of something special.
It is not what we do
It is that we care
For those that we know
And those that we don’t.
— It is not charisma
That makes our leaders.
It is credibility,
Or rather, it’s trust.

And some people say,
“Yes, I understand it all,
But who has the power?”
And then I reflect:
We are the owners.
We make the decisions.
We elect our leaders.
So I ask,
Who has the power?
For you know,
I am a leader …
And so is she …
And so is he …
And so are they.
Sometimes I lead,
Sometimes I follow.
But mostly
We all lead, we all follow, we do both together.
— I like to participate,
To vote,
To know that we are equal
In life and at work.
But I also know
I must be the one
Who makes these decisions:
To be educated,
To keep well informed,
Develop myself,
And keep up with all.
If I don’t do this
I’ll find that my vote,
My participation,
Won’t help us at all.

We now have a big name:
Mondragon Corporación Cooperativa,
“Sounds better,” some say,
“than the quaint
‘Mondragon experience.’”
For one thing I know:
What makes us, is not our name —
It’s the way we look at a challenge:
Discuss it,
Discuss it,
Discuss it,
Discuss it,
And then
We decide.
We change,
We change,
We evolve
We evolve together.
This is what keeps us alive — this is “the experience.”

And I know this for sure
We need to make money
We need to care too
For those who have less …
I know that for sure.
Globalization is a need
I hear
We must now grow
In faraway places —
Too far to go.
You know,
I am beginning to think this is needed,
And so
I should let those who know
Decide what is best for us all.
Or should I?
I’d still like to know
How decisions are made
When we lost money in Argentina
It’s us that will pay.

“Solidarity,” you say?
That word I don’t use …
But let me tell you
What I think it means.
It means sacrifice
Of those at the top
So others like me
Can earn a bit more.
It means that we all
Share earnings with all
In good and bad times
We divide it all up.
It means that we share
Year in and year out
Part of our earnings
To help those without.
Sometimes it seems
I am like a Siamese twin:
The pain of another
I feel just as much.
And at times I feel
It is like we’re all
Climbing a mountain
With only one rope.
We know very well
If one of us fails
Down we all go.

I think this is true
We care for each other
But I fear for the future
Because of the ghosts
That come with new words
Like “globalization.”

But in spite of my fears
My doubts, my complains,
I prefer working here
And facing all those ghosts.
For we have a tradition
Of solving these things
By working together and finding a way.
Will this time be different?
I don’t think so.
We will work through it all
As we always do.
Hard work, change,
Whatever it takes, I know we’ll come through.

So you ask me
What is the soul of Mondragon?
I still don’t know …
And thus cannot help you
To find our soul.
I can only tell you
What I feel we are
And what I feel we are not.
Utopia, we are not,
It’s no paradise,
And we are no angels.
We are just people
Working and changing together
“building the road as we travel.”

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