It’s not surprising that, in an era characterized by the decline of, and increasing assaults on, labor unions, along with the economic impacts of the pandemic, that the cooperative movement is gaining popularity. The Rust Belt, in particular, is slowly seeing more and more interest in models that enable worker power without traditional union representation, which is especially true in gig economy and service and frontline industry sectors that are disproportionately made up of Black and Brown workers.
Examples abound both locally and internationally. One of the most well-known cooperatives is the Mondragon Corporation in Basque, Spain, which officially began in 1956, but whose roots can be traced back to the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. Mondragon’s founder José María Arizmendiarrieta was a radical Catholic priest who formed a small company with his students, founded on the principles of humanism, solidarity, and a commitment to both individual and collective well-being, all in stark contrast to and rebellion against Franco’s authoritarian regime. The small company that created paraffin heaters eventually became a federation of ninety-six cooperatives and eighty-one thousand worker-owners. Many historians, economists, and worker-owners themselves credit the growth and longevity of Mondragon to its structure and values.