Guest blog: First day in Mondragon, Spain

Professor Ariana Levinson is guest blogging her trip to Mondragon, Spain.
Guest blog: First day in Mondragon, Spain

This week, I’m sharing my blog with Professor Ariana Levinson. She is spending the week in Spain at the Praxis Peace Institute Mondragon Seminar and Tour. Mondragon, the world’s largest enterprise of worker-owned cooperatives, ties in nicely with Professor Levinson’s current research. She is an expert in worker-owned cooperatives and plans to learn more about how to bring the laws governing these entities back to Kentucky.

Professor Levinson is at Mondragon thanks to the Dean's Faculty Development Fund, supported by Interim Provost Dale Billingsley. This fund finances several types of faculty research projects, including those between law faculty and other University of Louisville faculty and/or experts at other institutions.

Please join me in following these entries from Professor Levinson!

Study group, Mondragon
Professor Levinson's study group members arrive at their hotel.

Day One – Praxis Peace Institute Mondragon Seminar and Tour 

Warning: the Proletariat has taken over the Dean’s blog! No, seriously, I am delighted that because of a Dean’s Faculty Development Grant, I am in Mondragon today. And, Dean Crawford has kindly invited me to guest blog about what I learn each day at the Praxis Peace Institute Mondragon Seminar and Tour. 

One of my areas of scholarly expertise is worker-owned cooperatives. Some of you may be familiar with agricultural cooperatives, where different farms and producers join together to process, market and/or sell their products. Others of you may be familiar with consumer cooperatives, like the Good Foods co-op in Lexington or REI, where the customers of a business collectively own it. A worker-owned cooperative is one owned by the business’s workers, each of whom own one share of the company and have one vote in decision-making about the company.

Mondragon is a town in the Basque region of Spain. Basque is one of the world’s oldest languages, and the region is in northwestern Spain, in the Pyrenees, and crosses the border into France. Many people have only heard of the Basque because of Franco’s bombing of Guernica (depicted in Picasso’s famous painting) or the ETA, which fought for independence from Spain. The Basque people, however, have a long tradition of peaceful conflict resolution and self-governance. The town of Mondragon is Arrasate in Basque. The world’s largest cooperative is Mondragon Corporation, a network of cooperative businesses and educational institutions, which originated in the same region where the city is located. It is the Mondragon Corporation that brings me to Spain.

In the US, a handful of states have laws that specifically provide for incorporating as a worker-owned co-op. These laws are based on the model of how the Mondragon co-ops function. In other states, such as Kentucky, there is no specific law providing for worker-owned cooperatives, but they can be formed under the more general cooperative laws or as an LLC. There is currently one worker-owned co-op, Mountain Tech Media, in Eastern Kentucky where the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED) is planning to incubate more. In Louisville, those involved with the Smoketown Laundry project also plan to incubate worker-owned cooperatives. 

I hope to learn valuable lessons, legal and otherwise, that will be of aid to all those in Kentucky who intend to open a worker-owned cooperative. I believe this form of business can contribute to sustainable development, increase individual wealth and correspondingly reduce wealth inequality and provide workers and community members transferable skills in financial literacy and conflict resolution.

I have been reading material about the Basque Comprehensive Model for Sustainable Human Development and about Mondragon provided by Georgia Kelly, the Director of the Praxis Peace Institute, in preparation for the trip. Simply from the reading, I know I will have so much to blog about that it will be difficult to pick one topic each day! I believe the seminar will address legal issues, policy decisions, labor relations, education, dispute resolution and innovation and entrepreneurship.