The disaster and near total loss of the Cooperative Bank as anything Cooperative has been a shock for anyone that values and has an interest in mutual and cooperative solutions. At the same time the iconic original Mondragon worker cooperative FAGOR, manufacturer (Basque country, Spain) of white goods, has been put into receivership after the federation of fellow cooperatives turned down any further financial assistance.
These events are reminders that cooperative enterprise are as good as people do them both in regard to any social and ecological good practice and as effective enterprises that deliver the goods. They are human constructs that are susceptible to error , they are not in the end utopias. A constant effort is required to maintain them in good condition. They are also as any economic enterprises vulnerable to changes in economic, social and environmental conditions. Furthermore if apathy sets in among members, small coteries can capture the enterprise and any vital cooperative or mutual culture becomes moribund. Cooperative relationships are a challenge and need working at. Governance based on one person one vote all being well, orientate them to equitable relationships. Their management needs to be conducive to their fundamental democratic structure. Cooperatives are also more robust in mutual support with other cooperatives.
Both the Cooperative Group and the Mondragon Coops have been rocked. They are being tested. This if handled rightly it will lead to renewal and adjustments hopefully leading to reawakening engagement of workers and members. If enterprises with commons are valuable, a culture of membership stewardship needs to be alive.
Mutuals, cooperatives and trade unions evolved from Friendly Societies in the late 18c, these were usually small mutual self-help associations and were very hands on, do it ourselves outfits. Some of these characteristics need to be re worked into modern cooperatives in a modern form and may already be in evolution with the use of the internet.
A debate is now also opening up on what form a system of interrelated enterprises based on economic democracy might take to withstand the challenges of surviving in a global market. Whatever the outcomes for the Cooperative Bank and the Mondragon Coops, discussions are arising which could inform solutions to re cover the Cooperative Bank and repair the Cooperative Group and Mondragon Federative Corporation.
Added Jan 14. : Some encouraging statements in Cooperative news, even better if acted on .