Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero blamed the Basque terrorist organization ETA (“Basque Homeland and Freedom”) for the death of former Arrasate-Mondragón councilor Isaías Carrasco. An especially brutal murder—Carrasco was shot two times in the head in front of his wife and daughter—the Spanish people have stood unified in their opposition against this act of terrorism. While the family deals with their grief, the government has stalled the Spanish general election until Sun. The Associated Press reports:
An estimated 3,000 people, crying and carrying wreaths, packed a square outside the church of St. John the Baptist in Mondragon where Carrasco was gunned down outside his apartment Friday.
The crowd clapped as the coffin was carried into the church and on its way back out. Clapping is a typical way for Spaniards to pay their respects and say goodbye at funerals.
Carrasco’s eldest daughter appealed for massive voter turnout Sunday as a way to defy ETA, which has killed more than 800 people in its decades-old battle for an independent Basque homeland.
“I call on those who want to show solidarity with my father and with our pain to vote en masse Sunday and tell the murderers that we are not going to take a single step backward,” Sandra Carrasco, 20, said after a silent vigil in memory of her father.
Carrasco, 43, served on the town council from 2003-2007 and was one of a handful of non-nationalist members in a town where pro-independence sentiment is fierce. Then, he had a bodyguard. But Carrasco failed to win re-election last year, and turned down an offer to keep the bodyguard. He was shot three times in his car as he prepared to go to his job as a clerk in a highway toll booth.
Having spent some time in Guipuzcoa and other regions of the Basque country, I have a great deal of affinity for the people and geography of Arrasate-Mondragón. The surrounding countryside with its rolling hills and oak trees is a beautiful place. Mondragón is also the location of the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation (MCC), a highly successful network of cooperatives that have received much attention for their practical application of workers self-management and industrial democracy. While far from perfect, I am not aware of any other cooperative system that has achieved the success of the MCC.
What follows is an excerpt from a much longer piece about the development of the MCC that I wrote a long, long, time ago…
One narrow escapee from the Fascists was Jose-Maria Arizmendiarrieta (1915-1976), a progressive priest, who was initially imprisoned for his wartime work as a journalist on the democratically elected Republican government’s side. During the war, Franco’s soldiers were ordered to kill journalists that had Republican, Socialist or Anarchist sympathies. Arizmendiarrieta avoided death by claiming he was a combatant, a position he longed to have, but was denied due to a childhood accident that blinded his left eye. To this day Arizmendiarrieta is revered among MCC members, especially the pioneers, who attribute to him a large measure of Mondragón’s success.
After prison, Arizmendi returned to the Basque region where he had grown up to continue his educational work and get away from the Castilian stronghold of Franco’s regme. Given his interest in social problems, the new assistant curate was named counselor to the lay group Accion Catolica. When he returned to Mondragón he could scarcely recognize the town that had been so battered by the war. The economy was in ruins. There was no “Marshall Plan” in sight for the inhabitants of Mondragón. In an interview Arizmendi said, “We lost the Civil War, and we became an occupied region. In the postwar period, the people of Mondragón suffered severely in the repression. I had known some of the people of Mondragón, but when I came after the war they had either died, or were in jail, or in exile.”
He spent much of his time in the seminary, and as attested by the well thumbed books in his library, read Freire, Marx, Lenin, Mao, and Marcuse. However it must be stated that Arizmendi was no Marxist-Leninist or Maoist. Arizmendi in many ways was a humanist and a realist. He rejected violence and establishment politics, but always welcomed help from government or private industry. His library contained very few theological texts and he was a close student of the French leftist social philosophers Jacques Maritain and Emmanuel Mounier.
His original focus in Mondragón was the health and housing needs of the community, yet he soon shifted towards work and other economic issues, viewing them as key to Mondragón’s success and survival. He was not a radical or militant, rather he saw revolution as a gradual process, always in need of self-criticism and evaluation. To this end he advocated a “Third way of development equidistant from individualistic capitalism and soulless collectivism. Its center and axis is the human person in his or her social context.”
Arizmendi’s leadership approach was unique. He never held a position of authority in any of the cooperatives or supporting institutions. His leadership was by example, and while always willing to act as an advisor, he was never present for any votes.
Like any leader, Arizmendi has been criticized for his views. One of the most serious accusations has been collaboration with the Franco regime. Arizmendi was no friend of Franco. He had spent time in a fascist prison, yet was willing to work with government officials who were sympathetic to the cooperative cause. When he was awarded the Medalla del Trabajo in 1965, a national medal of honor, it conveyed the message to some elements of the left that Arizmendi was a fascist. I do not share this interpretation.
Early Community Organizing
Arizmendi viewed the need to engage a sense of community through participation in a collective endeavor, no matter how insignificant it may seem. With his background in health and social services, he helped establish a medical clinic in the community. He also worked to establish an athletic field and a sports league beginning with a soccer team.
When the local team went on to become champions of the Basque region, it was a cause for celebration. Most of the inhabitants of the town had been involved in some manner either in constructing the field or sponsoring the team. These early organizing activities not only provided a base for “future institution building” they also according to Don Jose Arizmendi were:
a process of mobilization, consciousness raising, and training, of theory and practice, of self-government and self-management, in which the young people, in order to face the serious problem of financing, organized raffles, festivals, and other public events. This not only facilitated the financing but also gave the youth-especially the most dynamic young people-the opportunity to learn practical lessons from experience. Simultaneously, in this process of interaction, they had the chance to build credit with the community in a broader sense. It was this youth that later on would become the protagonists of the cooperative experience. Practically, it was they who did everything, because I was the one who reserved for myself the easiest task-to think aloud. All that I did was to raise ideas and provoke the young people and nothing more.
The Foundation: Cooperative Education
When Arizmendi arrived in Arrasate in 1941 he found a “company town”, where the Union Cerrejera–UC, United Steelworks–a foundry and metal-works using local iron and imported coal provided the majority of jobs. The only school in town was a holdover from the days of apprenticeship which offered places for only twelve sons of UC workers each year. He had, “been invited by the Management of the Union Cerrejera to provide religious instruction in the company’s apprenticeship program and took advantage of this opening to urge management to include boys who were unrelated to employees.”
Arizmendi realized that parents wanted their children to be educated in order for them to have better economic opportunities. After the initial organization of a parents’ association and the involvement of community youth, the sponsors placed boxes on the principal street corners of Mondragon in which all citizens interested in the school could put slips of paper with their names and addresses and a statement indicating what they were prepared to contribute in money or personal services. The contributors became members of an incipient organization that would organize the foundation of the entire cooperative system.
With the vision that industrial and technical education was paramount, Arizmendi and Accion Catolica started a community-run, four-year school for industrial apprentices, the Escuela Professional. The school opened in 1943, with 20 students, rising to 150 in 1952, and over 1,000 by 1963. In 1948, the Mondragon Education and Culture League (now called Hezibide Elkartea) was created, becoming a cooperative in 1964. From 1957/8 the Professional School offered specializations in mechanics, electronics, and radio engineering/industrial draughtmanship.
Perhaps most impressive, given the patriarchal bent of the Catholic Church and Spanish society in general, was the focus on women’s education. While open to any vocation, particular emphasis was placed on technical fields, primarily chemistry. Between 1943 and 1988 this early educational seed blossomed into a comprehensive set of educational co-ops with approximately 45,000 students enrolled in everything from elementary schools to graduate work, often using Basque as the language of instruction.
Essentially, the schools provide both technical and socio-political training for the cooperatives. As Morrison writes:
In many ways, Mondragon’s schools were the foundations of the cooperative system; they provided both technically trained workers and the basis for today’s specialized co-ops. But the training was more than technical. It included social and ethical education that, in part, led pupils to begin the cooperative enterprises and helped guide future choices.
Ulgor and the Mondragon Pioneers
The original 12 graduates of the Escuela Professional were employed by UC, but ran into a brick wall when, with Arizmendi’s support, they sought greater worker participation in the way the company was run. Five graduates resigned and raised capital from the surrounding area to purchase a dilapidated and bankrupt factory. Most of the needed original capital (roughly $100,000, though accounts vary) was obtained from one hundred people in Mondragon, particularly from friends and associates who were members of the chiquitos, the town’s private dinner and social-drinking clubs. On April 14th, Ulgor (an acronym formed from the first letters of their names: Usatorre, Larranaga, Gorronogoita, Ormachea and Ortubay.), became the first worker-owned, worker-controlled cooperative, with 24 men and two women workers.
The cooperators realized that the key to manufacturing was patent rights and secured Spanish patents for a paraffin lamp and space heating stove. Soon Ulgor was designing its own stoves. It bought an existing foundry and casting shop to free itself from outside suppliers. In 1965, these shops were hived off to become part of the Ederlan co-op, and began manufacturing a line of electrical equipment under a foreign license. By then, Ulgor had built a new factory to produce butane cookers under the brand name Fagor.
Ulgor’s early success provided the capital resources necessary to launch similar cooperative efforts in Mondragon and nearby towns in the late 1950s and early 1960s. These included Arrasate in Mondragon, which began by producing lawnmower parts (and would eventually become one of Spain’s leading machine manufacturers); Comet, a steel foundry formed from two existing capitalist firms in Guipuzcoa (later to become Ederlan, meaning “good work”); Funcor, a foundry in Vizcaya; Ochandiano Talleres, a manufacturer of food handling equipment; Tolsan, a foundry in Vizcaya; and a retail co-op store, the first of what would become the Eroski chain.