Richard D. Wolff: Can We Remake Our Workplaces To Be More Democratic?
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So organizations either abandoned any movement in that direction or split into smithereens. Occupy, whatever anyone says about it historically, didn't shy away from that, didn't do that. The 1 percent versus the 99 percent, you're not going to scare us into being quiet about the economics. If there weren't other reasons to applaud Occupy, that would be enough. It's sad that it hasn't continued the same way, but that isn't surprising, you've got 800 obstacles to overcome, you can't do everything at once, that's a sadness you share, that there are all these obstacles.
I can personally attest that my invitations, my reception, the whole tone of my work were transformed by that. City Lights Books in San Francisco wanted that book [ Occupy the Economy ] because it would be sold to the Occupy movement and all of its supporters. Something as tangible as the assemblage of those things into a book is an Occupy product.
SJ: I want to go back to Mondragon, and hear about how it works, and anybody in the US who is working on bringing those ideas here.
RW: I went in May and June of this year and visited. They were very gracious, gave us about seven, eight hours one day, they answered every question we had, took us around to see the place.
I think it's wonderful—for me it's like Occupy in the sense that, of course there are problems. It's an amazing achievement and it has to be celebrated, and then we can analyze the strengths and weaknesses.
It starts in 1956, it's got six people and a wayward Catholic priest. Clearly a leftist, but that's not so unusual in European priest ranks. What's more important is that they're in the Basque territory. The Basques are a people apart, they have their own language, their own culture. They control the northern quarter of Spain as a country. They go over the Pyrenees, into France. And the Basques have been willing to fight against the Spanish government and the French government, for their independence and their right to have their own language. It's a highly cohesive, deeply traditional, militarily equipped, very hilly country where they are, so you're going to have a hard time fighting them, which the Spanish and French keep discovering. Every 30 years some idiot doesn't understand this and gets reminded.
At the end of World War II, having had the civil war and then World War II, the Spanish society is decimated, there's no jobs for anybody. This wayward priest said, we Basque people are going to take care of each other, and we're going to do whatever we want, and if the people in Madrid say anything, we will remind them what we will do if they bother us.
He says OK, there's no capitalists around to hire everybody, we're going to make our own jobs. He sets up a cooperative enterprise with six people in 1955. Now it's got 85,000 worker-members and another 15,000 to 20,000 others. I'm not clear whether that's their number in Spain or in Europe or includes all of them, because they now have about 75 little enterprises around the world. But the big enterprise, their core, is in Spain, in the northern part, in Basque area they're the number-one employer. You're talking big corporation.
I drove in, and on the side of a hill is a beautiful, modern, corporate headquarters. Glass, beautiful shrubbery, grass is clipped perfectly, we park our car in a lovely sculpted parking area. It looks for all the world like you're going into some corporate headquarters, you can see right away this is a serious operation. All their businesses look like that, they look like what they are, which is a big business, except they're an assemblage of co-ops. It's like a holding company, within which are all these subordinate units which are co-ops.