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Banded Together

Banded Together: Economic Democratization in the Brass Valley

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Banded Together
    Book Description:

    Providing incisive commentary on the historical and contemporary American working class experience, Banded Together: Economic Democratization in the Brass Valley documents a community's efforts to rebuild and revitalize itself in the aftermath of deindustrialization. Through powerful oral histories and other primary sources, Jeremy Brecher tells the story of a group of average Americans--factory workers, housewives, parishioners, and organizers--who tried to create a democratic alternative to the economic powerlessness caused by the closing of factories in the Connecticut Naugatuck Valley region during the 1970s and 1980s. This volume focuses on grassroots organization, democratically controlled enterprises, and supportive public policies, providing examples from the Naugatuck Valley Project community alliance that remain relevant to the economic problems of today and tomorrow. Drawing on more than a hundred interviews with Project leaders, staff, and other knowledgeable members of the local community, Brecher illustrates how the Naugatuck Valley Project served as a vehicle for community members to establish greater control over their economic lives.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09311-1
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Prologue
    (pp. ix-x)

    On a dreary day in April 1983, a hearse rolled through the little town of Thomaston in western Connecticut’s Naugatuck Valley. Behind the hearse, four white-gloved factory workers carried a bier. On it was laid out a clock—a Royal Seth mantel clock manufactured by the Seth Thomas Clock Company. The procession halted at the green next to the 168-year-old Seth Thomas factory. Then laid-off workers from Seth Thomas stuffed the clock with paper towels, soaked it with gasoline, and set it ablaze. They announced they would send the ashes to executives of Talley Industries, a multinational conglomerate that had...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)

    This book tells the story of a group of factory workers, housewives, parishioners, and organizers who tried to create an alternative to the economic powerlessness manifested in the closing of Seth Thomas and dozens of other factories in the Naugatuck Valley region. They sought ways to establish greater democratic control over the economic forces, institutions, and decisions that were devastating their communities, livelihoods, and ways of life. Starting in the early 1980s, they created a community alliance called the Naugatuck Valley Project to serve as a vehicle for their efforts; organized workers in dozens of companies to respond to the...

  6. 1. Roots of Powerlessness in the Brass Valley
    (pp. 1-20)

    One day in 1982, I received a call from a recent graduate of the Yale School of Organization and Management named Ken Galdston. He told me he wanted to create an organization to save jobs in the Naugatuck Valley.

    I was skeptical of Galdston’s proposal. I had seen the existing strategies of governments, unions, and other institutions charged with representing the interests of local workers and communities prove futile in the face of corporations prepared simply to shut down and move away. I felt changing that outcome was a hopeless task and that people in the valley were almost as...

  7. 2. Banding Together
    (pp. 21-34)

    Hank Murray remembers feeling angry as he watched a symbolic funeral procession carry a clock across the Thomaston town green to commemorate the closing of the Seth Thomas Clock Company. Murray was one of a dozen UAW officials who had come to the funeral to urge support for a law requiring employers to give their workers advance notice of plant closings. He still felt angry as he drove home.

    Murray was born and bred in the labor movement—his birth was announced on the front page of the newsletter of the CIO Political Action Committee, for which his father worked,...

  8. 3. Buyout
    (pp. 35-48)

    The Seymour Manufacturing Company was founded by a local entrepreneurial family in the little factory town of Seymour in 1878.¹ It was a typical Naugatuck Valley brass mill, turning out brass sheet, rod, wire, and tubing. It started with twenty-four workers; by World War I, it employed fourteen hundred.² When workers surreptitiously took me through the plant in 1980, machines were old, work was slow, and the workforce was down to a couple of hundred.

    For most of its history, the plant’s workforce was predominantly Russian and Polish. Eddie Labacz’s father came from Poland and went to work at the...

  9. 4. Organizing
    (pp. 49-66)

    Behind dramatic actions like the Seymour buyout lay something the Naugatuck Valley Project called “organizing.” The project clearly meant by that something more than simply forming an organization and recruiting members. Organizing meant taking disconnected individuals and groups and connecting them in ways that allows them to act in concert. But how could that be done?

    Notwithstanding its exceptional focus on plant closings, many aspects of the NVP’s strategy were standard community organizing techniques worked out over the course of many decades and taught by Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation and other organizing centers. They involved finding and developing leaders,...

  10. 5. Century Brass
    (pp. 67-83)

    The Scovill Manufacturing Company was the Naugatuck Valley’s first brass company, tracing its roots back to 1802. At its peak in World War I, it employed fifteen thousand workers. By 1975, it was Waterbury’s last integrated brass facility, employing about two thousand workers.

    Scovill workers had tried to organize since the 1890s, but unions became a permanent force only in 1952, when the Scovill UAW local, with only a few hundred paid-up members, challenged the company in a four-month strike that became a general community struggle. It resulted in the consolidation of a union whose power and militancy tapered off...

  11. 6. The Life and Death of Seymour Specialty Wire
    (pp. 84-110)

    Seymour Specialty Wire was widely celebrated as the largest and most democratically structured 100 percent employee-owned industrial buyout in the United States. But from its inception, problems were apparent. For seven years, the company continued to produce and sell specialty brass products, but business difficulties and internal conflicts loomed ever larger. After several years in the red, the company went into bankruptcy. In 1993, its assets were auctioned off for the benefit of its creditors. Its problems were rooted both in the historical legacy of the old company and in the global economic context into which the new company was...

  12. 7. Founding ValleyCare Cooperative
    (pp. 111-129)

    In early planning for the NVP, Ken Galdston had discussed with Waterbury leaders the possibility of starting an employee-owned business to serve the community and to provide jobs, including “homemaker service for the elderly.”¹ But the NVP had rapidly been projected into struggles over the factory shutdowns that were devastating the Naugatuck Valley. The project was largely known for its work around Seymour Specialty Wire, Century Brass, and dozens of other plant closings. But over the next few years, while still engaged in ongoing struggles over plant closings, the NVP began responding to other local needs, such as improving community...

  13. 8. Taking Care of Business
    (pp. 130-148)

    Starting a business was one thing; making it work—especially making it work as a participatory, employee-owned company—was quite another. ValleyCare had to recruit its workers and train them. It had to support them to perform effectively in a wide range of home settings, often with difficult clients. It had to handle all the complexities of managing a firm in the modern service economy. Like any business, it had to stay in the black. But it also had to realize the ambitious social goals for which it had been established.

    ValleyCare’s approach was a response to conditions in the...

  14. 9. The Demise of ValleyCare
    (pp. 149-163)

    During the second half of its life, ValleyCare faced massive external changes in the home health care industry. At the same time, ValleyCare was grappling with changes in the company culture brought about both by these larger industry trends and by the company’s internal growth. In combination, these changes made it increasingly difficult for the agency to realize its goals, led it to adopt drastic survival measures, and ultimately forced it to close.

    Throughout its years of operation, VCC was buffeted by the shifting winds of state and federal health care policies. As early as its second quarter, VCC had...

  15. 10. Brookside Housing Cooperative
    (pp. 164-185)

    During the mid-1980s, Connecticut was hit by a speculative real estate boom that dramatically raised rents and house prices. According to the state Department of Housing, the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the central Naugatuck Valley region rose by 176 percent, from $176 to $485, between 1980 and 1986.¹ Rev. Shepard Parsons of the Naugatuck Valley Project said that seven hundred people applied to the Waterbury Housing Authority for Section 8 subsidized apartments in one day.² Mike Kearney told Ken Galdston that his brother-in-law was having to move out of Seymour because he couldn’t find housing and...

  16. 11. Economic Democratization from Below
    (pp. 186-202)

    The NVP efforts recounted in this book have sometimes been disparaged as “social experiments that failed.” But it would be closer to the truth to say that those initiatives that failed were crushed by the policies of neoliberal globalization that dominated the world for the past three decades. Now it is neoliberal globalization that has proved to be a failed experiment, wreaking devastation on the entire world year by year and culminating in the “Great Recession” that reached a crescendo in 2008–9.

    How can we now find taking-off points for new experiments that can test alternatives to the “let...

  17. 12. Afterstories
    (pp. 203-218)

    The era of deindustrialization recounted in this book was just a moment in the history of the Naugatuck Valley, the NVP, and the individual lives that intersected with them. This chapter follows a few threads of what has happened to them since.

    There was no resurrection in the Naugatuck Valley.¹ Twenty-five years after the closing of its major industrial employers, it remains a “victim of the Rust Belt.” But life goes on, and the valley has continued to experience major changes in social geography, demography, economy, class, and community life. It has seen residential, commercial, and industrial suburbanization. Now, according...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 219-240)
  19. List of Interviews
    (pp. 241-242)
  20. Index
    (pp. 243-251)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 252-256)