Chapter One (9/10)

Social assistance

The realization of social objectives must be considered today as a means to give effective content to the principles of freedom and equality described by constitutions. Equality between citizens must be ensured not only before the law, but also at starting points, concerning the minimum requirements of life. Freedom must also be guaranteed by protection with respect to those minimum demands, at the risk of being reduced, as has been said many times, to the freedom to starve to death. It is obvious to Arizmendiarrieta that the State should develop a policy of social content with the aim of carrying out these two principles of equality and freedom (FC, II, 59).

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A field in which private initiative and State intervention can combine is social assistance. Arizmendiarrieta considers State intervention in this field, because of the way it does it, to have had very negative consequences. "We are seeing that the sensibility that once existed in this field of assistance, in other times, in some businesses, has disappeared, with emergency formulas appearing that are of dubious validity over the long term, but of doubtless need to solve problems that cannot be postponed. This is what happens with complementary and voluntary retirement benefits that lack appropriate administrative bodies, and are left to the momentary good will of business directors. This is why we believe that we can go from serious and well-studied administration formulas to the application of interesting benefits which, in turn, can have good sources of financing" (CLP, I, 131). "We must not lose sight of the unnerving attitude produced in a community by the constant preaching of a Public Administration that presumes it always has interesting magic formulas on hand; this must imply the application of assistance and care-taking measures of a collective and very general type, leaving room for other astute people to set up benefits and complementary services to address unsatisfied needs" (Ib.).

Inspired by Arizmendiarrieta, cooperators must find social assistance formulas in which initiative and personal responsibility play a part. The need for citizen initiative will now be grounded, not just in the fact of the distance of the State, but also in regional differences. "This is why our people are referred to as having a standard of living above the average of neighboring regions, and with the possibility of comprehensive reforms of assistance and security plans at the national level, which seem to be characterized by some minimal benefits, which may affect us, because of being conceived of and regulated at the scale of national solidarity. We’re going to find ourselves with the alternatives of having to accept an insufficient level of benefits for our level of development, or in need of judging for ourselves the planning and the administration of complementary benefits" (CLP, II, 103).

From his first writings, Arizmendiarrieta considers citizen initiative fundamental to the field of social assistance, believing it preferable to the indirect intervention of the State, when this was neccesary. "To bring about a true flowering of authentically social works of assistance, of living institutions, it is often enough for the State to demand the investment and documentation of certain quantities, guaranteed by the acceptance or recognition of the workers, leaving them and those companies free, and reserving to the State the inspection and guidance of the quantities. We have proven that the Cajas that collaborate on illness insurance have been a success when their participants have had participation in their governance and administration, and other cases could happen in other fields of social assistance, like professional teaching, housing, etc. Allowing room for initiative would easily spread a noble zeal for development in this or that person, and so we would be on the path towards a major development of these works. A minimum of other benefits would be secured for all workers, but the most diligent or interested could enjoy others; precisely because of their diligence or interest, they would deserve, and would get, greater support. To this end, the principle of mixed collaboration of enterprise and worker is extremely interesting, with a fixed proportionality and freedom of initiative for both to improve services, committing the other party to making a greater contribution, in the case of the first party making a greater sacrifice. By this formula, the boundless and light ambition of the few would be restrained, and, on the other hand, a better development and a constant perfection of works would be ensured" (CAS, 142-143).


In this field, Arizmendiarrieta believes that citizen initiative and municipal and State intervention or aid should know how to work together. He strongly criticizes State policy, because he does not consider it reasonable to force businesses to build apartments instead of investing in production goods, and judges as unjust "bottomless grants that the State makes to those who build houses with certain features, and which we believe cost as much as 30,000 pesetas per story" (FC, III, 51; statistics from 1967). This grant policy is unjust, because it deals with social money, which come from the taxes we all pay, and which, instead of enhancing society, directly benefits a few citizens, who are not exactly the most needy.

"It seems to us necessary for public power to help in the resolution of this problem, since otherwise, it would be unsolvable, but the chosen way does not seem right, even though it is very simple. This money that the Ministry of Housing grants should not become equity of those who acquire the residence, because in the case that they sell their property, they will profit from the social contribution received in their day. It seems more reasonable to us that this aid take the form of a long-term loan, with or without interest, such that its reimbursement could help to solve others’ problems when they are in need. And fairer and more social would be for this aid to take the form of social equity in the hands of semi-public entities, at the local or provincial level, that build houses to lease to the neighbors in its area and generate profitability than could help make sure those and other funds did not lack, and had the maximum multiplier effect socially" (Ib. 51-52).

Professional teaching

On August 2, 1943, Arizmendiarrieta addressed a group of Mondragon businesses leaders with the following words: "Informed of the good disposition of the industrialists of Mondragon for the solution of the problem of professional teaching, and hoping that every idea or initiative leading to such objective will merit a warm reception among you, we take the liberty of addressing you in the name of Catholic Action, which must not and will not remain on the sidelines of this issue, which has such a close relationship to the ends that it pursues" (EP, I, 8). From that day, Arizmendiarrieta will find himself in constant need of reconciling private initiative and State action. The experience will not be very positive.

Arizmendiarrieta began full of optimism: "Authority," he says, "as the manager of the common good and principal promoter of public prosperity, today has to face this problem with the same decisiveness and the same breadth with which, in its day, it faced the problem of primary teaching and training" (Ib. 45). There were a time in which primary instruction was not considered a problem of the common good; its solution was then entrusted to private initiative, until it was seen that ignorance and illiteracy were a matter that affected all members of society, affecting their fate so deeply that the State, even when it meant raising public expenses considerably, no had choice but to attack the evil at its root. Primary instruction became mandatory and, so that no one could be excused, it was made free. Today, he says, no one sees public expenses earmarked for the establishment of primary teaching as debatable. It is a social service that benefits all of society.

The same should occur at once with those children or youth who are abandoned to their luck upon leaving primary school at fourteen years old (Ib. 44), with society providing them nothing that they could use to undertake an activity or a job in accordance with their skills, and not imposed by mere economic circumstances. In addition, there is the aggravation that in this society in which we live, the more social groups need outside protection, the less it provides to them, because of their social position. There exist universities, institutes and all kinds of centers maintained by funds from the public treasury, which benefit those who have the least need for outside protection. "The concession of opportunities for instruction and training in accordance with the skills and will of stakeholders is, today, an elemental postulate of good government, and is an indispensable government rule to satisfy the longing for justice and equity that sprouts in all hearts, and, on the other hand, will be a highly effective measure for stability and social co-existence" (Ib. 46).

Indeed, apart from the generous help of the people of Mondragon (Ib. 56-58), they did not lack for help from public entities, especially of the Deputation of Guipuzcoa, Caja de Ahorros Provincial, Banco Guipuzcoano, and the Official Chamber of Industry. But even with all this, "we would by lying if we said that all the requests and gestures have had results. But the lack of response to some of our requests, we believe, will be the silence of a waiting period. Ensconced in a densely populated and heavy-tax-paying area, but one which lacks in any post-school training center and has no affordable access to any other, our school provides a public teaching service, just as an official center could provide, and as we have corrected this defect, we hoped for an official assignment by the National Ministry of Education among the volume of those received by other centers of type. We believed the non-existence of another post-school teaching center in a zone in which its need is recognized, would earn us special attention. Needless to say, we were surprised to be given a concession of 2,000 pesetas" (Ib. 58-59; statistics from 1947). This grant arrived, it seems, through the Delegation of Unions. "We have all heard," replies Arizmendiarrieta, "of union dues which, just in the city of Mondragon, currently adds up to more than five hundred fifty thousand pesetas annually. Add to that what is paid in Arechavaleta and Escoriaza, which is the sponsor zone of our School" (Ib.).

Years would go by, and things would not improve much. 1951: "Can we say that the National Ministry of Education has given the slightest attention to these centers and these institutions (professional training centers)? Undoubtedly, the attention the Ministry provides to them is not at the level they deserve. In spite of their enormous multiplication and development, budget appropriations of the Ministry for these centers continue almost unchanged throughout these years. The first form of protection of the apprentices should imply broader and more decisive policy support by the Ministry for these Centers, which are, in the immense majority, private" (Ib. 236). Arizmendiarrieta accuses the "policy of statification" of teaching, which leads to apprentices quitting school and private professional training centers, as he indicates in his article, in most cases. The State prefers to build other kinds of teaching centers, especially at the intermediate level. "And now these institutes are an excuse to stop providing economic means to other centers, to subsidize existing private ones, that meet a public function. Likewise, workers and sons of workers are the ones that attend union schools and others run by other institutions" (Ib. 238).

"The Christian policy is not what is labeled that way," Arizmendiarrieta concludes bitterly, "but rather that which recognizes, and is inspired by, those other undisputed principles from the point of view of a Christian conception of administration and government" (Ib.).

In subsequent years, the critical observations multiply. In 1968, in parallel with other aspects, criticism on this topic becomes more widespread and extends to the lack of general consciousness that is observed in all of society. "By this time, there must be others, not just us, who are addressing these matters of social emancipation through professional training, both in businesses in which we work, and therefore, more or less bound to hear the demands of our needs, and in union or mutualist organizations, to which we are subscribed by payments, and for which we designate leaders, and which see fit to include among their social objectives some of these aspirations and their coverage. We think our social body has reached the age of majority, and must at least have reached an awareness of the problems that most deeply condition our future, and therefore, it is high time that in the negotiation of collective agreements, these kind of matters be an object of attention; that in the governance of social institutions, union members or mutualists give a fine-tuned expression to the sense of equity and of distributive justice in the administration of social funds; that in our organizations born to correct family powerlessness in various kinds of matters, the need to proactively address unquestionable needs in the far-off future gains resonance" (Ib. 77). What is demanded, then, is an awareness of the problem among all of society, starting with the government and unions, including businesspeople, and reaching the workers themselves, who should include this kind of demand in negotiations of collective agreements.

"We must loyally recognize that we are still far from that awareness existing, or the resulting advocacy action, and it is due to this, perhaps in no small part, that this extraordinary tool of promotion, the professional training center, is still acting with a coefficient of performance that could be notably improved, because of the limitation of affordable material resources" (Ib.).

Arizmendiarrieta’s complaints go on and on. Let us limit ourselves to the concrete problem of teachers, which, more than a problem, is a culmination of them. Professional industrial training centers cannot, in the first place, have an exclusively dedicated professorship, but rather, must make constant use of assistants, because of schedules, etc., and, above all, of remuneration (Ib. 281). And this problem is difficult to solve, as long as its solution is entrusted to the Central Board of Professional Industrial Training, which is part of the Ministry of National Education. "If we adjust to what they pay upper-level teaching staff or public functionaries with skills and responsibilities analogous or superior to the teachers at the professional industrial training centers, we will have that to conclude that, practically speaking, what we intend is not possible" (Ib. 283). On the other hand, professional industrial teachers are constantly asked for by businesses. "At this time, there is no school of professional industrial training in Guipuzcoa that has the staff and degrees required by the Law" (Ib. 284).

"The only viable solution is administrative autonomy," decides Arizmendiarrieta. This is likewise imposed by regional differences. "We believe today that budgetary resources are not sufficient for current arrangements, nor is the current administrative structure adequate for agile management, which is demanded by the widely varied characteristics of the regions of Spain. To adjust to the circumstances requires a greater decentralization, with the incorporation or representation of various sectors involved in the solution to this problem, with the consequent economic contribution provided for their needs" (Ib. 309), he writes in 1962.

"In the current line of conduct of regulation and ordering, things are proceeding as if all Spain, for this purpose, had identical characteristic circumstances," accuses Arizmendiarrieta in relation to possible economic formulas to sustain professional industrial teaching. Besides the inadequacies that this policy has in itself, a fatal consequence was the loss of citizen consciousness, such that the initiatives that the State could undertake (1958) could no longer have a very enthusiastic collaboration of the living forces most directly interested. "It has been revealed that municipalities and Deputies have intervened in this field, as the one who are most sensitive to the most urgent problems of each zone or place; businesses have been taxed without incentive or attention to those who would have done something, or a lot, in this field, since three years after passing a Law, which anticipated exemptions or reductions in response to the efforts made, they have been given no satisfaction, few as they were; it is known that the payment is of a certain amount, but the exact amount is unknown and, above all, its use and destination; some Provincial Boards have been created, but with no authority or administrative autonomy, relegated to a simple bureaucratic or procedural function; we would say, in summary, that for as grave as this problem is, citizen consciousness about it has been diluted" (EP, I, 250).

The aid received never seemed to be enough. Finally, Arizmendiarrieta again turned to help from the community, from the interested parties themselves, from the businesses. Guipuzcoa, he says, has a network of professional training centers covering all of its territory, of all existing legal classifications: official centers, Church centers, union centers, free centers, company centers, and subsidiaries of cultural institutions. Almost all are deficient, both in relation to facilities and machinery, and in relation to the faculty. "Until there is an administrative decentralization, or the centers adopt the relevant measures, to assure continuity of good personnel, it will be difficult to fix this problem of personnel. Given the scope represented by both the costs of installation and maintenance of this mode of teaching, it is estimated that it will be difficult to maintain it at the level of demand without a wide economic and social participation by the whole population, which is to say, we will be interested in collaboration by businesses, workers, and various public and private institutions, so that, in this field, we not only sustain schools, but complete their action through an agile system of social credit to youth with skills to pursue training at higher levels, or that takes an interest in training them in specialized centers, whether national or foreign" (Ib. 318).

The State and development of the cooperative movement

While, in the origin of the cooperative movement, it is necessary to recognize the decisive role of the Professional School, the criticisms of the deficiencies of the State on the topic of professional teaching could be repeated about the development of the cooperative movement. Arizmendiarrieta did so on one occasion: "Around here, the members of the Obra Sindical de Cooperación are conspicuous in their absence, to the point where if it depended on their action, at this point, in all this region, there would not be a single producer cooperative" (EP, I, 295). The criticisms of the administration, considered bureaucratic, or of "sectors of a feudal nature, that have influence on the administration" (CLP, I, 26), are not lacking, either, concerning the problems and difficulties that hamper the cooperative movement.

However, on this point, it would be good to limit ourselves to criticism of a new kind: the criticism of legislation itself.

"To affirm that the first detractor of the Cooperative is the Law itself," he wrote in 1970, "for the defective image that it provokes of the Cooperative as enterprise, and for the absence of mechanisms provided to give a future to the strength and vitality of the base, is not to make any kind of negative criticism" (FC, III, 295). For an effective and healthy advocacy of cooperatives, no less than laws, other factors count, like mental preparation and personal and collective awareness with respect to solidarity, the function of property, the common good, etc. "But the Law itself should be a pedagogue on this, and the image that it calls up in us of a cooperative business has to be clear, without error, and with well-defined commitments" (Ib. 296).

If the starting point is the principle of pluralism in forms of business organization in the field of economics, the cooperative option does not need to be identified with exclusive and excluding relationships, imposing on those who opt for it the inability to exercise other options of relationship and coexistence, as if any alliance had to be fatal or inviable for these other options. "Today, those who contemplate the economic world with a democratic and social vision, and not necessarily totalitarian or rigidly corporate, must conceive of economic entities with open options for relationship and interaction" (Ib.).

"The legislator must forsee and provide ordinary means so that cooperative entities do not live in perpetual age of minority, which is to say, they should make use of themselves, of their organization, to acquire the vigor needed to bring their commitments to a happy resolution" (Ib.). Legislation on cooperatives needs to be updated, concludes Arizmendiarrieta.

Arizmendiarrieta has been repeating this demand for years. In 1969, lamenting the grave defects of the legislative and organizational creation ("it lacks provisions to channel a cooperative movement under the impulse and risk of its initiative and vitality"), he insisted: "a new Cooperatives Law is needed" (CLP, III, 177). And in 1968, he demanded the reform of the cooperative fiscal regime: "The need for reform in this field is unavoidable if we consider the profound transformation that economic reality has suffered in these recent years, which leaves the current rules totally outdated, which, in their day, were issued for a radically different economic panorama" (FC, III, 110).

It seems that cooperatives had numerous difficulties with the current legislation right from the first moment they appeared. Cooperators’ ideal of building an organization that, on the one hand, constitutes a really human community and, on the other hand, satisfies the demands of a progressive and dynamic company, "assumed more than a little reflection and study, to be able to fit such presuppositions into our cooperative legislation, which was deemed essential for the future development of the community experience. Impediments to this that the aforementioned provisions cooperatives seemed to be, at least in the common interpretation of them, overlook the way that one man, don José Luis del Arco, Chief of Legal Advice of the Sindical de Cooperación, took charge of the spirit that encouraged the leaders of this Cooperative Experience" (CLP, III, 173). Whenever Arizmendiarrieta narrated the history of the cooperative movement, he gratefully recalled this man, Del Arco, "who knew to how value what is fundamental and permanent" (Ib. 226), "no less sensitive and concerned for the spirit than for the letter of the Law" (Ib. 184), always "most attentive to the spirit, without contempt for the letter" (Ib. 234).

The State and political-economic structures

Occasional criticism of Spanish economic policy is not lacking in Arizmendiarrieta’s writings, like this one, arising around the water supply program of the Metropolitan Area of Madrid: "Some people clamor that the Peninsula is being desertified, and the countryside is dying of thirst. But while some howl and clamor, it looks like other are investing and progressing to maintain the capital in the foreground among analogous cities in Europe or in the world. Everything is a question of scale and interests, in which some keep saving so that others can enjoy, some working so there can be others who can walk through avenues that are more luminous and splendid every day. It is a matter of good taste and manners; of the power of each of us" (FC, IV, 236).

He uses sharper relief in his severe criticism of the Third Development Plan (1971), which he considers "more of an exercise in guessing, attentive to the political results of the increase in well-being, than an authentic effort to plan reality, which, at any rate, it only controls only a small part of, abiding by programming when it is time to solidify a timely and appropriate policy" (FC, IV, 56). Rather than a solution, Arizmendiarrieta sees the Plan as a mass of commitments that will lead to nothing. "It goes on without coming down from the limbo of pure principles, development is pursued no thanks to the modification of the guidelines of the economy, but rather in spite of them, which is to say, without debating them and without undertaking, therefore, their transformation" (Ib.). This is a plan, he says, that is short-sighted and will be short-lived, presented in beautiful lacing, but pure fiction.

Those who knew him closely testify that, contrary to what happened in his last years, Arizmendiarrieta was adopting positions that were more and more radical and revolutionary. The objective of the classless society became, for him, an obsessive idea, and he did not hide his sympathy for some revolutionary transformations of society (Cuba, etc.). On the other hand, there is no doubt that his early trust in the good disposition and capacity of various social groups or bodies (employers, unions, parties, etc.), to transform society from within, had suffered a serious break in the experience. Convinced of the need for a new order, in spite of everything, Arizmendiarrieta must have wondered about what possible subject was capable of carrying out the necessary transformation. There exist oral testimonies about all that, but not written, which is why this study prefers leave to these aspects for his biographers. There is, however, in Arizmendiarrieta’s writings (1970) a critical reflection on Spanish political-economic structure, that belongs, without a doubt, to this context. In it, Arizmendiarrieta demands a deep reform of structures, not limited to immediate economic policies, since "the key to our problems lies in our economic structures and (…), therefore, it is appropriate to reform them" (FC, III, 290). How? It would first be necessary, he says, to transform the role that the State plays in the economy: "from a mere role of oversight, regulator, compensator of the deficiencies and disabilities of private initiative, to an role of being active and co-active, controller and organizer, a true leader, and not merely a subsidiary" (Ib. 290-291).

In Arizmendiarrieta’s general thought, this text remains isolated. Anyway, he clearly recognizes that the State has a decisive role to play in social transformation.

Logically, it is first necessary to accept the need to transform the State itself, so that it can then fulfill its transformative function. And that is what Arizmendiarrieta does on this occasion: "But, as always, the key to the question (…) is fundamentally political and would previously suppose modifications of the current reactionary and passive character, turned over to the almighty initiative of a small oligarchy of the State" (Ib. 291).

For the construction of the new order to which Arizmendiarrieta aspires, cooperation will not be the only means, but rather one means among several. All society must commit to it—all people of good will—struggling in on many fronts and with the most diverse means, including political struggle and the transforming intervention of the State. However, this may constitute a notable deficiency in Arizmendiarrieta’s thought; he himself has not reflected much on these aspects, focusing all his attention in the need to organize citizen initiative and cooperation. It should not be expected, he will insist, that the State will intervene: it is necessary to organize and act from bottom up. He considers that citizens leaving transformative functions in the hands of the state constitutes one of the greatest obstacles to the real transformation of society. So, from his personal perspective, the State will be more an obstacle and a hindrance than an instrument to count on.

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