Could cooperatives inspire a better economy? – Slugger O’Toole
The Mondragon Cooperative Federation has been the backbone of the economy of the Spanish Basque Country for decades. It was founded in 1956 by a priest – José Maria Arizmendiarrieta – who believed that the best response to the hostility and neglect of the region by the fascist dictator Franco was to develop cooperatives based on mutual aid and independence.
Today, 96 cooperatives are members of the federation and employ more than 81,000 people. The federation includes manufacturing companies, financial institutions, retailers and its own university – which functions as a knowledge, research and development center for the group. Mondragon is the largest trading company in the Basque region and one of the ten largest trading organizations in Spain.
There are similarities and differences between the Basque region and Northern Ireland. These are the similarities that have led many people over the years to wonder if Mondragon’s example could inspire a comparable movement here. The positive experience of credit unions (financial cooperatives) in Northern Ireland gives hope that this will be the case.
In the latest podcast from Holywell Trust, Fred Freundlich, professor at the University of Mondragon, discusses what can be learned from Mondragon and if its success can be replicated. The interview can be heard here. It is part of a series of conversations about what can be learned from best practices in community and economic development elsewhere.
Holywell Trust Forward Together podcasts are funded by the Community Relations Council’s Media Grants program.
Disclaimer: This project has received support from the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council which aims to promote a pluralistic society characterized by fairness, respect for diversity and recognition of interdependence. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Community Relations Council.
Paul Gosling is editor-in-chief of ‘Lessons from the Troubles and an Unsettled Peace’, author of ‘A New Ireland’ and ‘The Fall of the Ethical Bank’ and co-author of ‘Abuse of Trust’, the story of a child abuse scandal in Leicestershire. He is engaged by the Holywell Trust charity on peace and reconciliation projects and is the parliamentary assistant to Sinead McLaughlin MLA, the SDLP spokesperson for the economy.