Resources for the History of Worker Cooperatives in the United States

Here are some readings to become familiar with the waves of cooperative organizing that have been a part of the United States' history.  Many cooperative guides will use the Rochdale Pioneers and Mondragon as historical touchstones, but there is quite a storied, innovative and contemporary history within the United States that is worth getting to know.

Overview

1800s worker cooperatives

Cooperatives of the 1930s

The Plywood Cooperatives of the Pacific Northwest

Twenty four worker-owned plywood manufactories prospered in Washington and Oregon between the 1930s and 1970s.  

Sunset Scavenger

The independent garbage collectors of San Francisco organized into a worker cooperative in the 1920s that held the municipal monopoly to serve most neighborhoods in the city.  Their organization demutualized in the 1970s.   

The Federation for Economic Democracy

The Federation for Economic Democracy (or FEDO) was a network of local technical assistance organizations advocating worker cooperatives and self-management from 1975 to 1977 in the eastern United States.  Local nodes of the Federation became the Boston-area Industrial Cooperative Association and the Philadelphia-based PACE.   

Youngstown and the Campbell Iron Works

The shutdown of the Campbell Works in 1978 galvanized a lot of the cooperative organizing efforts of the Northeast.  Though the project did not succeed, both the Ohio Employee Ownership Center and eht University of Maryland's Democracy Collaborative were founded by people involved in the rescue attempt. 

Rescuing Plant Shutdowns

The O&O Supermarkets

The O&O Supermarkets were a series of worker cooperatives in the Philadelphia area in the 1980s.  The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1357, in partnership with Philadelphia Area Cooperative Enterprise (PACE), organized the first two stores in 1982 as part of a negotiation to keep the stores from being shut down by A&P.

The Influence of Mondragon

The success of the Mondragon Cooperatives has been an inspiration for American Cooperative organizers ever since word arrived.   Previous to Mondragon the best large scale implementation of the cooperative idea available was the socialist self-management of Yugoslavia.   

The counterculture

Many small worker cooperatives formed as part of the counterculture in urban areas in the 1970s.

The Hoedads

The Hoedads were a network of worker cooperative tree planters that reforested the Pacific Northwest after logging.  At peak they had 13 crews and over 300 workers.

Histories of Contemporary Worker Cooperatives

Sometimes people remark that worker cooperatives were a phenomenon of the 1970s, but there are plenty of examples of startups, some of them quite innovative, during the 1980s and 1990s. 

Demutualizations

Demutualization, or restructuring as non-democratic corporation usually to sell to an outside buyer, can be a problem if a cooperative is struggling OR if it is too successful.  Demutualizations of two of the larger West Coast worker cooperatives created stir a few years back.

Conferences and Federations

During the late 1990s and 2000 a serious organizing effort was made toward creating federations of the somewhat isolated worker cooperatives in the country.  

 

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