The miracle of co-operation

Cognitive scientists have found 20 men and women who can remember what happened every day of their lives from pre-teens onward.

Cognitive scientists have found 20 men and women who can remember what happened every day of their lives from pre-teens onward.

This among many studies plumbs the mystery of the mind and suggests that humans are smarter than we used to think.

Smart enough, collectively, to distribute food, shelter and comfort across the world more fairly and efficiently than it is distributed now.

Tool using is another aspect of human brainpower. Twenty thousand years ago, it was stone axes. Today, computers. Tomorrow, maybe, artificial intelligence.

We now have the electronic tools to mobilize citizen anger against a privileged elite which (some of us believe) has been mismanaging the political economy.

Inventive leadership is another element in the movement for radical social change that has trashed such failed ideas as rigidly centralized economic planning. It’s leaders are driven by a sense of deprivation and a battery of morally and intellectually inspired ideals.

One notable agent of change was Father Jose Maria Arizmendiarrietta, or Arizmendi for short, the priest who launched the Mondragon co-operative movement in the northern part of Spain where the Basque language is spoken.

He arrived in 1941, when Fascist dictator Francisco Franco was starving the region of resources and punishing its people for fighting him in the Spanish Civil War. Arizmendi stirred five pioneers to create Mondragon as a survival strategy in three parts: a credit union, a technical school and a workshop for manufacturing kerosene stoves.

After enormous growth, Mondragon has faults but it guards its structure of economic democracy: one vote for each worker-owner, some of the income invested in the well-being of the home region. Pay of managerial workers averages five times higher the lowest worker’s salary, against a reported 350 in the U.S.A.

Mondragon co-operative corporation has become an appliance and high-tech manufacturer, financier, insurer, university educator, grocer, trader and exporter employing 100,000 people, with annual sales of 13.9 billion Euros.

It weathered the economic storm well, reduced wages moderately by the owner-workers’ decision, and did not fire anybody except new hires on trial.

The Mondragon story contains this message for Canada’s NDP, which used to call itself the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation.

The NDP, with its strengthened official-opposition status in Canada’s House of Commons, and its increased popularity, is now under temptation to bland down into one more Liberal-Conservative party and thereby become the secret friend of the corporate power elite.

Arguably such a move would be like climbing aboard a sinking ship. Anger is rising against a political and economic system that crushes the poor and cushions the rich and powerful.

Barely a hint of that rage in the blogosphere reaches us through the gee-whiz view of the world supplied by daily newspapers, radio and television.

In the daily media, suffering appears as entertainment. Bloodshed provides shock and thrills.

Where millions of people are under threat of death from starvation, disease, gang violence and war, the glimpses of horror are comfortably sandwiched between sales pitches for soap, summer drinks and more and more stuff to display in our mortgaged houses.

A chorus of voices on the Internet reject this fuzzy popular viewpoint. How does the NDP stay true to its name as the party of new practical ideas in the Tommy Douglas tradition while treading carefully to avoid offending the elites? I don’t know how, but I believe the party can achieve the miracle.

—G.E. Moritmore is a Langford-based writer. Think About It appears every second week in the Gazette.



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