Never underestimate the power of a good example. Gandhi never did. Indeed, he wanted to show through the power of one good example how others might also adopt nonviolence in their own struggles, making the Indian example what he called “an ocular demonstration.” Our job is to raise up those good examples when we see them, opening up possibilities and invigorating our creativity where we might otherwise feel deprived of our agency. For instance: can corporations be run along different lines? Even beyond the extremely laudable “B-Corp” model that prioritizes people and the planet as well as profit? Well, have you ever been to Spain? The Basque region, to be precise? No? Well, have you ever been to San Rafael, California for a coffee or scone in the Arizmendi bakery? It’s a part of a worker cooperative called Mondragon, an experiment–a successful one at that–in transforming the way that corporations can work: cooperatively, instead of exploitatively. And, if you look closely, a model for replacing capitalism.
The core value, according to one Mondragon director, Mikel Lezamiz, is to create wealth in society, not to earn money. In over 56 years since the cooperative was founded with the inspiration by Father José Maria Arizmendiarrieta (his story another day!), there has not been one person who has lost their job. When one cooperative is having difficulties, worker-owners are moved into another cooperative until the other one comes back to health. And here’s something else: there is wage regulation. The executive is limited in how much he or she can earn above the minimum wage salary. On average across cooperatives, the executives earn only 5 times more than the lowest earning employee-owner. And how does a cooperative spend its profits? Besides pay, the largest percentage of their profits are reinvested in the cooperative fund to create new cooperatives. Lezamiz argues that since workers are investing in the cooperative with their paychecks (the cooperative covers areas from finance to education, for starters), you could really say that very close to 90 percent of their profits go back into the cooperative.
And “how are they doing”? Extremely well. Something like 20% of the industrial product of Spain rolls out of Mondragon cooperatives. They are competitive in the global market, but they’re doing it by creating, not exploiting, an entire community in the process. They are not forcing others to accept their way. They simply do it and it works.
As peace researcher Kenneth Boulding’s First Law goes, “If it has happened, then it is possible.”
Provide an “ocular demonstration” of nonviolence today.
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org