What does Gandhi mean when he refuses to separate religion from politics? He means that true realization, or religion, cannot remain silent for long: it requires concrete expression. Consider the life of the founder of the Mondragon Worker Cooperatives, José María Arizmendiarrieta (Arizmendi for short). As a young man, he engaged in what would be considered constructive program: promoting the existence of the Basque identity by working as a journalist for a Basque newspaper. During the Spanish Civil War he was arrested for his actions and sentenced to death by firing squad, but escaped due to an administrative oversight! He returned to his studies and soon thereafter became a Catholic priest.
He was sent to work in a small village, not more than 30 miles from his home, called Arrasate, or ‘Mondragon’ in Spanish. The village’s priest was shot by Franco’s forces and the people were suffering from the effects of the war, including a high level of poverty and unemployment. He ached to be of service. And one day he realized he could dedicate his work to helping the village find a way out of poverty, to rebuild itself along the lines of a long-standing tradition in Basque country: the cooperative.
In 1943, he established a technical college to train people to become managers, engineers, and skilled workers for local companies. With this, his Catholic social teachings had a concrete expression — the economic uplift of a village — without which those teachings would be just nice words. Working with five technical school graduates, together they formed the now world-famous Mondragon Cooperative. The year was 1956 and their first product was paraffin heaters. Today, they employ over 100,000, and needless to say, Mondragon the village had its prayers answered. “Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means,” wrote Gandhi. Father Arizmendi got the message.
What are some of the worker cooperatives in your town? Find out!
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org