Credit unions have been booming over the past few weeks, thanks in part, I believe, to the Occupy movement. Indeed, one of the more promising trends I’ve seen in Occupy teach-ins, discussions and literature is a focus on promoting alternatives to corporate consumption. To that end, I’d like to recommend that the occupiers and their allies all read up on the Mondragon Corporation, a sprawling association of worker co-ops in the Basque region of Spain. Through Mondragon, some 84,000 Basque workers democratically run their own factories, schools, grocery stores, credit unions, insurance companies, and then some. Via the New Left Project, here’s a 1980 documentary on the corporation’s history and the community it serves:
A co-op network this sprawling probably isn’t replicable in the United States any time in the near future. And our manufacturing base is so corroded that an American Mondragon would likely have to build its foundation on a separate industry. But Occupy is playing the long game, and it has no shortage of resourcefulness.
Besides, the Mondragon model appeals to some of the principles that seem to resonate most deeply with Occupiers: democracy as a way of life, economic justice, and a way of bringing these things into the real world that doesn’t involve slogging through traditional legislative channels. Clearly, Occupiers must deal with dominating state and corporate power head on, but they also have a real opportunity to introduce alternatives. The Mondragon model may not be the solution, but it’s something to learn from.
The experiment in promoting credit unions has thus far been a success, but it’s time to think bigger and more comprehensive. It doesn’t get much more comprehensive than an entire community run on economic democracy.