Green Mayor Promotes Mondragon Model in California

by Steve Rice

(Steve is a volunteer with the Network of BAy Area Worker Cooperataives [NoBAWC], and he reports on solidarity economy activity in the Bay Area.)

The Mayor of Richmond, California, Gayle McLaughlin, recently held a public presentation where she reported back on a trip she made in September to the Basque region of Spain for a week long intensive look at the Mondragon Corporation.  This public presentation provided the unacquainted with a brief history, as well as a review of some of the central tenants of Mondragon's network of cooperative enterprises. 

(I personally was not able to attend either of two public presentations the Mayor convened but thankfully the events were video taped.  Here is a link if you would like to view the report back: http://permaculture.tv/richmond-mayoral-mondragon-cooperative-meeting/.)

The Mayor opened the presentation with a few words about why she believes Mondragon should serve as a guiding example for how economic development should proceed in Richmond.  She was then followed by her aide who provided a more specific account of their trip.

The Mayor began the presentation by stating that Mondragon "really sets an example to all of us on how we can expand as a community and develop a sense of democracy empowerment."  She was obviously encouraged by what she saw during her week stay.  Before she left Spain she signed a letter of intent & endorsement along with Mondragon's Director of Cooperative Dissemination, Mikel Lezamiz. This letter can be viewed here if you care to review. 

If you are interested in specifics on how the Mayor envisions city government acting in support of the development of worker cooperative businesses in Richmond, the public presentation did not provide that kind of concrete plan.  Rather the presentation seemed to be more of an effort to reach out to a broader audience previously unaware of the potential scope and scale of worker cooperative businesses.  I also think that the Mayor was conveying her commitment to begin the process of defining how local policy can support worker cooperative development.

After the Mayor finished her introduction, her aid, Marilyn Langlois, provided a more in depth presentation of their trip to Spain as well as a report back from her experience attending the US Federation of Worker Cooperative's National conference in August.  She stated that one of the things that really struck her about Mondragon was the emphasis they put on education, training, research, and innovation.  She quoted Father Arizmendiarrieta (often referred to simply as Arizmendi)  as saying, "If you want to democratize power you have to share the knowledge." During their one-week stay, they participated in all day seminars throughout the week and occasionally visited a few of the many cooperative businesses and educational institutions. 

            Mayor McLaughlin is in the midst of a tough reelection campaign.  Let us all hope that she comes out on top so we can she how the seeds planted in Basque country Spain may eventually blossom in Richmond, California.