Wales has always had an affinity with the Basque Country. The status of the Basque Country and its ancient language ‘Euskara’ within Spain is very similar to that of Wales and Cymraeg within the UK.
While the languages are not even remotely connected, recent DNA research suggests that the Basques, Irish & Welsh are closely related – and we even share the same colours for our flags.
One of the largest organisations in Basque Country – and indeed in Spain – is the Mondragon Corporation. The organisation was founded in 1956 as a small worker owned co-operative making paraffin heaters. Today, Mondragon has grown to a workforce of around 75,000 people with a turnover of €12 billion. But it is still worker owned, and one of its unique features is that it has an agreed wage ratio of 5-1 between its highest paid management and lowest paid workers – something that we should be considering for our local councils and public bodies, let alone private companies.
In the past the Mondragon model has been suggested as something Wales should follow and Leanne Wood has previously supported this approach. However, the idea has never got off the ground as it was missing one vital feature – what the cooperative would do! What would it make? What would it sell??
One of my favourite features of Christmas are the Christmas markets – temporary street stalls selling everything from slate house names to Curry Wurst. There is an excellent market next to St Davids Hall in Cardiff which has grown in size each year, and which features loads of Welsh produce which is rarely found in Tesco or Aldi. It is not only at Christmas time – there are plenty of regular Farmers Markets to be found across Wales where you can buy local produce such as Seaweed Gin and Salted Chocolate, and the same showcase stalls appear at major events such as the Eisteddfod and Royal Welsh Show – although this year’s event was spoiled by the deliberate rebranding of Welsh produce as British for blatant political purposes.
The Welsh food industry has some major produce suppliers such as Castell Howell Foods; some well-known brands such as Penderyn whisky; and some growing names such as the Snowdonia Cheese Company; but on the whole, most of our food industry is small-scale and undeveloped. Apart from the Christmas markets and a few specialist local shops such as Wally’s in Cardiff it is difficult to find good local produce as the supermarket chains are only interested in dealing with major suppliers.
Made In Wales
So why not form a Welsh produce cooperative – an organisation set up to market and distribute Welsh produce – to negotiate with the major supermarket chains on behalf of all of its co-opted suppliers – with a common brand name and logo and clearly marked ‘Made-in-Wales’ (bilingually of course). Let it establish a chain of shops to sell our produce – one in each high street but also in tourist locations and even airport duty-free areas.
Increased sales will result in increased production leading to more jobs in our rural communities – and a Mondragon type wage-ratio can ensure that everyone profits fairly.