Together

Together is the title of a video, currently on the ICA website. The 40-minute video was produced by CECOP – CICOPA Europe,  m30m S. Coop [sic], and producer Leire Luengo. It covers co-operatives in four countries: France, Poland, Italy, and Spain. As ICA states, the video shows the resiliency these co-operatives offer their members. They’ve done it with innovative ways to adapt to years of economic changes.

In Aisne France, a troubled manufacturing company converted to a co-op as a solution to the 2008 financial crisis. Called Fonderie de l’Aisne, an auto parts manufacturer, they diversified as a co-op into other areas. The resulting success has contributed to the Aisne region, and heritage, by sustaining the business and keeping it locally owned.

In Poland, the mineral water co-op, Muszynianka, founded in 1951, has adapted and thrived. In the nineties, the Polish economy changed from a planned economy to a market economy. The adjustment was difficult for Polish co-ops, but an interviewee points out that it was also liberating as the workers came to realize the impact their contribution had on business results. Muszynianka was previously a co-operative, but a state-owned one. By the time of the 2008 crisis, the company saw no slow down in business.

In Italy the video introduces social co-operatives, first formed in the 1970s. Law 381 from 1991 is noted, which has allowed social co-operatives to thrive throughout the country. Gruppo Cooperativo (CGM) is the largest network of social enterprises in Italy. As I mentioned in my last post, Richard Wolff emphasizes the importance of government backing for co-op development; Italy is an example he points out. Social co-ops in Italy provide social services and work integration for disadvantaged people. The co-ops interviewed have been able to retain staff  during economic uncertainty. Benefitting Italy as a whole, the co-ops running these social services save the government money.

Finally, the video visits Mondragon, a co-operative group in Spain. Mondragon was reviewed in the movie Shift Change. However, Together covers different co-ops, including an electric car project involving many co-ops. Like Shift Change, Together features Fagor Electrodomésticos — the co-op that has been a lighting rod for bad press due to going into bankruptcy. But the Fagor news has overshadowed how large and diverse Mondragon is, as is evident in this video. Again, resiliency is the key for Mondragan and the Basque region — without it, they can’t rely on agriculture or natural resources, like petroleum. The end of the video quotes a Mondragon leader who says they are a model for future business and society.

These four European co-ops have economic and social benefits. They also have a contender in the U.S.: the Evergreen co-operatives in Cleveland. I look forward to hearing a lot more about them.

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