Nothing differentiates people as much as their respective attitudes to the circumstances in which they live. Those who opt to make history and change the course of events themselves have an advantage over those who decide to wait passively for the results of the change.
José María Arizmendiarrieta
(Ideologist and driving force behind the Mondragón Co-operative Experience)
The local environment
Like other human communities, throughout its history Basque society has engaged in many different economic activities within the field of co-operation. One example of such activities is the carrying out of occasional neighbourhood or community tasks, known in the Basque language as Hauzo Lan and often linked to agricultural work. In some cases, such community activities eventually developed into official institutions such fishing guilds or community land use organisations, which played an important role in the Basque economy.
Logically, the advent of the industrial revolution considerably reduced the importance of such practices and institutions, although at the same time it brought with it new examples of economic activities carried out according to the principles of co-operation; such activities included the Consumer Co-operatives, which arose very early on in the Gran Bilbao region, and the Industrial Production Co-operatives such as Eibarresa Alfa, which were inspired by socialist ideals.
However, both the practical experiences and theoretical work underway were interrupted by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, which seriously undermined all the progress made in this field and plunged the Basque Country into a severe economic and social depression.
José María Arizmendiarrieta
It was against this backdrop that José María Arizmendiarrieta, a young priest born in Marquina in the province of Vizcaya, arrived in Mondragón in 1941.
A highly pragmatic and hard-working man, José María was to be the driving force behind the Mondragón Co-operative Experience, serving as an exemplary role model for all co-operative members until his death in 1976.
The First Steps
In 1943, José María set up the Polytechnic School, now known as the Mondragón Eskola Politeknikoa, a democratically administered educational centre open to all young people in the region. Mondragón Eskola Politeknikoa was to play a decisive role in the emergence and subsequent development of the Co-operative Experience.
In 1956, five young people from this school established, in Mondragón, the first production initiative of what today is MCC: ULGOR (now Fagor Electrodomésticos), which during its early years focused on the manufacture of petrol-based heaters and cookers.
ULGOR, Arrasate ( Fagor Arrasate) and what is now Eroski were set up in the area during the final years of the 1950s. Motivated by a common spirit, it was these co-operatives that in 1959, the same year as the publication of the Stabilisation Plan, founded the Caja Laboral Popular credit co-operative, a true co-operative bank which was to prove a key element in the future of the co-operatives encompassed within the Mondragón Experience.
The following years saw the birth of a large number of co-operatives. It was during this period that Fagor Electrónica, Fagor Ederlan and Danobat (among others) were set up, along with the Business Division of Caja Laboral which was to serve as a seed bed for companies and a key element in the subsequent evolution of MCC.
During the seventies, a number of new co-operatives were set up and existing co-operatives consolidated. Much progress was also made in the field of research and development, with the creation of the Ikerlan Centre for Technological Research.
The eighties were mainly characterised by the development of the Mondragón Co-operative Corporation (MCC) in response to the challenge posed by the creation of the European Economic Community and the globalisation of the economy. The co-operatives, which were formerly grouped according to region and geographical location, were restructured into sectors in accordance with their production activities.
During the nineteen nineties, prompted by MCC, the University of Mondragón was set up as a private university aimed at satisfying the needs of local companies. Similarly, it was during this period that the group’s turnover increased spectacularly, mainly due to a concerted effort in the field of internationalisation. Currently, MCC has 38 industrial plants abroad, and this figure is expected to rise to 60 plants by the year 2005.
Today, almost half a century after its foundation, the Mondragón Co-operative Corporation is the largest business corporation in the Basque Country and the seventh largest in Spain, as regards both sales and workforce.
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