Mondragon: Spain’s giant co-operative where times are hard but few go bust | The Guardian

by Giles Tremlett

José María Ormaetxea is the co-founder of Spain’s seventh biggest industrial group, but he potters around Mondragon in a Ford Fiesta and lives in an ordinary flat in this industrial town tucked into a valley in the country’s northern Basque region.

“Imagine how rich he could have been if he had founded a different sort of company,” said Kepa Oliden, a local newspaper reporter from this town of 23,000 people. “But you won’t find anyone driving a Rolls-Royce in Mondragon.”

Visitors also find little of the new poverty sweeping through other parts of Spain, for up the steep slopes of what locals jokingly call the “sacred mountain” lies the headquarters of the Mondragon Corporation, the remarkably recession-proof company that Ormaetxea helped found in 1956.

There is little flashy about the offices of the Basque country’s biggest industrial company, but then there is nothing normal about what is now the world’s biggest workers co-operative … with global sales of €15bn (£13bn).

Whereas workers at other Spanish companies must answer to shareholder needs – often by sacrificing their jobs – that is not true at Mondragon, which acts as the parent company to 111 small, medium-sized and larger co-ops.

And as Spain struggles through double-dip recession, fierce austerity and 26% unemployment, this is one company that is not about to collapse. Nor has it shed many jobs, with the workforce remaining steady at around 84,000 people worldwide – about a sixth of them outside Spain.

Read the full article from The Guardian.

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