Monday, January 31, 2011

Mondragon Cooperative Built on Sweatshop Labor?

Editor's Note: This protest speaks to the need for relocalization in conjunction with economic democracy, as well as a scaling down of the materialistic lifestyle encouraged by Western culture. I knew years ago that Mondragon was creating high tech exports to partially support their cooperative project (many people wondered how did they do it and why haven't we been able to?). This raised a red flag as most high tech is environmentally unsustainable, as is the environmental burden of transporting exports and related packaging. Most high tech goods are produced in sweatshops to be competitive on the global market. Sometimes despite good intentions, the distancing of the supply chain leads easily to environmental, economic, and social abuses. It become much easier to both hide these practices and to emotionally and socially distance one's self from the effects. Hence all the problems with tracking sweatshop and green goods. A truly sustainable economy would be focused on local/regional productions, with minimal production of necessary specialized goods by the global fair trade market. In the meantime, these workers need fair wages. In the long term, they should be building their own regionally produced, democratically controlled, sustainable, cooperative economy. Nothing else will substitute.

FagorMastercook Protest
ZSP Admin, pon., 07/21/2008 - 20:10
Fagor's not a Workplace but a Workcamp: Mondragon Capitalists F#$% Workers in Poland. Strike is Imminent

Fagor is a large appliance manufacturer owned by the Mondragon "Cooperative" capitalist enterprise. In Poland it cooperatives FagorMastercook in Wroclaw. Currently there are serious labour problems in FagorMastercook. Members of the Wrocław group of Union of Syndicalists (ZSP) went Friday to a protest in front of the factory.

The place has become quite militarized. On Friday the firm had over 200 armed security guards from the notorious firm Impel there to protect the factory. The place was surrounded by metal barricades and each worker going in was throughly searched. Some employees say that there is often heavy security and searches.

Despite the heavy security, or perhaps because of it, about hundreds of workers joined in the demonstration on Friday. About 300 people, workers and supporters, were there after the morning shift, and about 200 before the afternoon shift began. The demo was organized by the August 80 union which has been negotiating with the firm for many months to get people a pay raise.

The workers in FagorMastercook have noted many instances of people being fired for belonging to unions or even just agreeing with their postulates. At least 20 members of August 80 were fired.

In FagorMastercook there are a few unions: Solidarity, August 80 and OPZZ Metalworkers. Solidarity and August 80 are calling for pay raises. In June a warning strike took place. Over 90 percent of the workers went on strike. Then a wave of repressions started. Besides firing some unionists and others who supported them, they started to pick out people, have supervisors stand behind them on the line watching their every move, threatening to fire them if they got even a second behind production. This sort of intimidation was probably used to show people that if they tried to organize themselves, the company would find any small pretext to fire them.

On July 9, two members of August 80 were fired for "leaving their workstations". They had been collecting votes on a strike referendum.

Members of ZSP at the demonstration were told that people were threatened with dismissal for demanding pay raises. They also heard that the workers will probably vote to go on strike.

Production workers at FagorMastercook make around 1200 zloties (400 euros) a month. Minimum wage in Poland is currently 1126 zloties a month but this will be raised to 1276 next year. So workers at this highly profitable factory are making almost nothing. That's why one of the slogans of the workers is FagorMastercook: A Workcamp, not a Workplace.

At the end of 2006, the EBRD decided to give 17.5 million euro to FagorMastercook. This money was given as part of a restructuring project. FagorMastercook wants to increase production in Poland and achieve economies of scale while making Poland its production hub for Central Europe. The company moved production from Spain when it started new production of gas stoves in Poland about 5 years ago. The production of refrigerators also got moved to Poland. Over 80 percent of the production is meant for export. They increased turnover by about 29% last year.

FagorMastercook works in a Special Economic Zone and received subsidies from the Polish state; it received a direct subsidy of 3.5 million zloties for creating jobs, plus a CIT and corporate real estate tax exemption. So in addition to money from the EBRD, FagorMastercook got help from the Polish state of about 52 million zloties. That's equal to the EBRD's 17.5 million euros at the current exchange rate. This means that the EBRD and Polish state invested more in the FagorMastercook facilites in Wroclaw than Fagor.

Although Mondragon still pushes its "cooperative" worker-friendly image, publishing bullshit reports on how it is concerned about the effects on globalization on the local workforce, for example in Spain, Mondragón Cooperative Corporation (MCC) is a typical capitalist employer operating plants in low-wage countries like Poland, Egypt, Morocco, Mexico, Thailand and China. Employees in these countries are not co-op members. (Some employees in other countries, even in Spain are also non-members; as many as 1/3 of Mondragon workers are not cooperative members. Any cooperative can also apply to MCC to employ up to 40% non-cooperative workers.)

It pretends to be "one of the world's top 10 best employers" and pays completely shit wages here in Poland and is actively repressing unionists. This is even worse than having typical capitalism disguised as a cooperative; it's just typical exploitation of people from poorer countries by those in the richer ones.

ZSP is calling on people to send letters to Mondragon and to Fagor expressing their disgust with the appallingly low wages in Poland and with the recent incidents of repression and intimidation against protestors. We also ask people, if they meet anybody spreading naive reports about Mondragon, to point out what's going on.

Sample protest letter (please write your own version):


José María Aldecoa
Mondragon Corporation Cooperative
Pº Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta
Nº 5 20500 Mondragon
Guipuzcoa, Espana
Fax: +34 943- 796 632
Fax: 34 943-779-300

Fagor Electrodomésticos
Fax: 943 79 68 81

Fagor Mastercook
Fax: 48 22 639-8985

We are writing to support the demands of the workers at Fagor Mastercook in Wroclaw and to demand an immediate end to its repression of unionists.

Workers at Fagor Mastercook are demanding an pay raise of 1000 zloties since salaries there are barely above minimum wage and are well below the national average. Over 90% of the workforce participated in a warning strike in June. Afterwards, many union members and leaders were fired. Workers have complained that they have been harrassed and intimidated. Peaceful demonstrators were met by 200 armed security guards.

This type of exploitation is a disgrace. Enough of your hypocrisy !

We are looking forward to the workers' imminent strike and ultimate victory.


If you sent a protest, let us know. If you sent a different text, send copies to:

1 comment:

  1. This is quite sad.

    I hold Mondragon in high esteem with what it does within Spain, with over 100,000 workers, and the greatest demonstration of worker production cooperatives. But no matter how egalitarian a group is, that group can do the opposite to people outside the group, exploiting others.

    I was hoping that Mondragon would create cooperatives in other countries, but I guess that hasn't been the case. My thinking is that a cooperative can still pay themselves low wages. Obviously despite the low wages, people are taking the jobs - if there was a cooperative, they would pay themselves the rate that the market would allow them to still remain competitive!! When people are given the opportunity to make a living while owning their labor, they will make the best decisions given the way the market functions, even if it means pushing yourself to produce more. If a worker in a cooperative must compete working 16 hours a day, and there is no other option, then they will work that much. Mondragon may claim that they must survive in a global marketplace by doing what they are doing outside Spain, but to me, the logic just does not make sense. What they are doing is severely undermining their intention, and losing credibility and true integrity.