Spanish Town without Poverty

Released: 1/19/2000 12:00 AM EST
Source Newsroom: Long Island University
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Newswise — Noted poverty expert and Southampton College of Long Island University sociology professor Barbara Peters brought a class to Mondragon, Spain, a corporation and cooperation town. Peters has studied the area for over a decade and spent part of this past summer there. She hopes the Mondragon model could be used to fight poverty in this country.

"In Mondragon, I saw no signs of poverty. I saw no signs of extreme wealth," Peters said. "I saw people looking out for each other."

Mondragon is located in Basque Country of the Pyrenees Mountains. Since 1956, a group of worker-owned manufacturing and supportive businesses, including a technical college, have been in operation there. The corporate values of the Mondragon Corporacion Cooperative are cooperation and solidarity. Of its 28,000 residents, 24,000 have bought into it, sharing profits from the town's commerce. Peters' class visited the main offices of the corporation and attended two days of seminars to learn how it is organized.

"What I want to find out is if it can work here," Peters said. "There are people in the U.S. who are economically abandoned. In places like the inner city, this could be both community building and economy building."

Students conducted research January 10-20 in Mondragon observing how the experience of worker ownership impacts the social life of the city.

Peters first heard about the Mondragon model 12 years ago and has been fascinated with it since. It's a caring form of capitalism, she said. "It's profit-making, but the workers make the profit. They buy into it, and can get loans to do so from a cooperative bank. ... My recent trip there was just incredible."

A former Head Start mother who fought her way from poverty to earn her Ph.D., Peters now teaches sociology and women's studies at Southampton College. Her first in a series of books on the children of poverty, The Head Start Mother: Low-Income Mothers' Empowerment Through Participation (Garland), was published in 1998.

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