P2P, Cooperatives and Mondragon Experience

by Julen

As I said before I am going to write some articles in English. The first one, as I promised, has to do with cooperatives and P2P theory. It is based on some ideas from P2P Foundation blog (including these comments from Marcus Molz) and above all on my job experience working within Mondragon Cooperative Corporation. Why talking about this? Although it could be incredible, the first reason is that there are very few reflections, as far as I know, about this theme: P2P and cooperatives. As I said before, I have been working for 12 years in cooperative companies and I am still involved as a consultant and professor at Mondragon University. So I have some personal experiences that I am going to use in order to explain my ideas.

First of all, I will extract the basic ideas that I’ve read from Michel Bauwens blog comparing p2p and cooperatives:

  1. P2P is based on cyberspace and then it has a global scale and cooperatives are designed on a physical (and more local) production system.
  2. P2P belongs to all and cooperatives belong to an specific collective, you know, the workers that are the owners.
  3. P2P produces value and cooperatives run in the marketplace and, because of that, they create basically exchange value.
  4. P2P is emerging as a phenomenon supported by online world and cooperatives are reduced and marginalized in our capitalist world.
  5. P2P is a system where anyone contributes but without any exigency of return and cooperatives are based on reciprocity.

I will comment these items trying to introduce some extra ideas.

If we have a look at the origins of many MCC cooperatives it’s evident that cooperatives of the sixties or even of the seventies were very concerned about local movements, but nowadays the reason has to do more with market reasons, specially when we talk about a new cooperative created from another existing one. Perhaps the relation with local community (instead of the typical capitalist system) has changed, although we must be sure that there is and there will be some initiatives with this colour. I agree that P2P acquires its sense when we talk about the planet. But cooperatives nowadays must assume that markets are global and in order to operate in those conditions they must redesign their genetic code. That is a problem, I’m afraid. P2P is not present at all in the actual conversations within the cooperative movement.

Workers hope that all together within the cooperative they build the conditions for the success of the company. They have a project for them and for their families, but in a global world. Of course there is a different meaning in the concept of «ownership» that the one coming from the quantity of shares you have. But this feeling of ownership is quite strong in many cooperatives. It is our project, we are different from others. This pride could be paradoxical because we assume that it shows positive and negative characteristics.

Cooperatives live in the marketplace. That’s obvious. They look at the rules of the market but they say they want to transform the society. Although sometimes is difficult to understand this as a fact, it has been written in their principles. They create exchange value because there is an economic result that must be achieved in order to continue with the project in the future. But there is at the same time some internal noises about use value. I think many industrial cooperatives realize that working on the logical rules of competitivity the horizon is really black. The low cost countries will be the ones with many workers in manufacturing companies. Some cooperatives are taking into account the real need of strong and large networks in order to maintain competitiveness in this new world. That’s a reason for re-invent markets and the role of cooperatives.

Cooperatives here in Basque Country are a phenomenon that many people from the rest of the world come to visit. It is normal to attend professionals and people from governments of any part of the planet. And people who come here, I suppose, they find very interesting the model but at the same time mostly very difficult to build. It is an evidence that here we are the only ones with this volume: nearly 80.000 workers all over the world. Sometimes it is like a strange phenomenon in a world that behaves in a very different manner. But here it is a reality. Even with no P2P conversation. But I think there is a real worry about the near future. I think many people from MCC think we must change the management model we are using within the cooperatives. The idea is good but time has changed and we must incorporate other points of view, as P2P analysis, for example.

On a large scale the cooperative realizes that reciprocity is a great problem. When you have Dunbar’s dimension, reciprocity is a feeling that encourage the project. But in many cooperatives, contributions have dramatically separated from a P2P basis. Salaries have increased the difference between top and bottom. If I realize that your earnings are a lot more than mines I expect that you contribute according to your salary. And, besides, markets say how much money we must receive. If we have a look at the general policies we found this text: Salary levels and the rate of staffing costs in relation to the added value generated by each individual activity should be kept at competitive levels within each sector, and should coincide with other payment levels in the local environment, as well as with the profits and financial situation of the company.
There is a tension between contribution and rewards. This is not P2P, my friend.

P2P and cooperatives have the same roots, in a general meaning: the contribution of people, based on their intentions of collaboration, in order to get some results that couldn’t be possible if acting alone. But P2P use a planetary dimension and normally cooperative initiatives are very related to its immediate environment. The commitment to an specific territory was quite often a reason to begin with an alternative way of doing businesses. But things are different nowadays. I am sure that MCC must redefine his model of cooperation and they must have a look at new horizons.

For me it is a pity that there’s nothing about analyzing P2P phenomenon in order to learn more about how people collaborate in 21st century. But even without this issue there is a lot to learn about this type of businesses here. I hope that I can contribute through my thesis at Mondragon University.

MCC’s Business Culture can be read here. Specifically: basic principles, mission, corporate values, basic corporate objectives and general policies.

Disclaimer.- I realize that this article contains only general ideas, but I hope to continue with this subject. I promised to write some articles a month ago to Michel Bauwens; sorry about the delay. But I hope there will be some new ones in the future. Perhaps I will try to discuss about MCC principles (cooperation, participation, social responsability and innovation) and P2P.

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2 comentarios

Lula Towanda 12/03/2006 - 13:01

Yo tenía un proyecto de innovación sobre aplicaciones P2P para PYMES. Me dejaron hacer la fase I pero me cerraron el proyecto porque no tenía resultados a 3 meses vista y encima me echaron la bronca.
Ahora intento hacer algo sobre p2p en el doctorado, pero en el plano técnico. La colaboración es lo único que puede cambiar el panorama actual de los grandes monstruos que dominan el mundo por tamaño.

FLOK Society, el gran proyecto de conocimiento abierto de Ecuador | Consultoría artesana en red 01/04/2014 - 04:58

[…] su sentido más amplio P2P Foundation ha sido siempre una de las referencias obligadas (recuerdo el artículo que escribí a petición suya sobre las cooperativas de Mondragón y el P2P allá por ¡20… o la conversación que mantuve con él con motivo de la celebración de UrbanLabs en 2008. Con […]


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