Jeremy Brecher, Banded Together: Economic Democratization in the Brass Valley.
Jeremy Brecher, Banded Together: Economic Democratization de·moc·ra·tize
tr.v. de·moc·ra·tized, de·moc·ra·tiz·ing, de·moc·ra·tiz·es
To make democratic.
de·moc in the Brass Valley (Chicago: University of Illinois Press The University of Illinois Press (UIP), is a major American university press and part of the University of Illinois. Overview
According to the UIP's website: 2011)
JEREMY BRECHER has spent much of the past 35 years documenting the rise and fall of the brass industry in the Naugatuck Valley in Connecticut. The Brass Workers History Project was initiated in the late 1970s, resulting in a popular history book and documentary film. It was an inspiring early example of community-university collaboration in the field of oral history. Now, in Banded Together: Economic Democratization in the Brass Valley, Brecher tells the story of the Naugatuck Valley's energetic response to deindustrialization deindustrialization
A shift in an economy from producing goods to producing services. Such a shift is most likely to occur in mature economies such as that of the United States. . In so doing, he shifts our attention from the profound loss experienced by displaced workers to local efforts to build democratic alternatives to the economic status quo [Latin, The existing state of things at any given date.] Status quo ante bellum means the state of things before the war. The status quo to be preserved by a preliminary injunction is the last actual, peaceable, uncontested status which preceded the pending controversy. . It is a movement history of the Naugatuck Valley Project (NVP NVP Network Voice Protocol
NVP Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy
NVP Name-Value Pair
NVP National Vice President
NVP Nominal Velocity of Propagation
NVP N-Version Programming (multiple functionally equivalent program versions) ), a coalition of community activists, churches and unions. The resulting storyline is both inspiring and deeply depressing.
Brecher, a longtime participant-observer in the NVP, wrote the book for both an academic and public audience. It was initially timed to coincide with the organization's 25th anniversary. It is therefore a commemorative act that draws some critical lessons from the surge of economic activism Economic activism involves using economic power for change. Both conservative and liberal groups use economic activism to boycott companies and organizations that do not agree with their particular political, religious, or social values. in the 1980s and 1990s. There is much to celebrate here. Unlike other places experiencing deindustrialization, the Naugatuck Valley was the site of large-scale and sustained community mobilization. The political possibilities of "banding together" to buy out failing companies or starting up new cooperatives are evident in the interviews the author conducts with movement activists. As he states, 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." (xiii) These interviews reveal political awakenings.
The NVP'S early success at Seymour Manufacturing, re-opened under an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, was widely heralded at the time. Its demise seven years later however raises troubling questions about the viability of the economic alternatives being presented. The NVP'S other buyout campaigns failed, as did a cooperative start-up. In fact, only the Brookside Housing Coop still exists today. As Brecher states, "[t]here was no resurrection in the Naugatuck Valley." (203)
Banded Together left me with more questions than answers. If deindustrialization "liquidated not only factories and jobs; it liquidated a legacy of community building" (11), why then did we see largescale and sustained community mobilization in the Naugatuck Valley? Why here and not elsewhere? Conversely, we hear that valley residents also voted out a liberal Democratic Party Congressman in favour of a conservative Republican. How do we reconcile these seemingly divergent politics? We are told of the "broad loss of confidence in Keynesian economic policies identified with liberals and the Democratic Party." (12) Is this why labour and community activists turned to local forms of solidarity? Did this decision serve the Valley well? Sadly, Brecher largely fails to engage with the wider scholarship on deindustrialization. There is a larger story here; see for example Jeffrey Manuel's fascinating 2009 thesis on the decline of "industrial liberalism" in Minnesota's Iron Range.
That said, my main criticism of the book is that Brecher offers us only an inward-looking history of the NVP. We hear mainly from a handful of inspiring insiders such as organizer Ken Galdston, trained at Saul Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation. How did other residents view the NVP? "Ihe author's source base, and his location as participant-observer, lead him to dismiss outside criticism. The failure at Century Brass, for example, is blamed on the narrow-mindedness of union leaders. But why did most union members vote against the NVV NVV Nederlands Verbond van Vakverenigingen (Dutch) ? Were there substantive fears over pension rights? How did they perceive the NVP? No dissenting or external voices are heard. These silences limit the author's ability to bring a more critical eye to the work of the NVV. Basic assumptions are never questioned.
One of these assumptions is the value and effectiveness of NVP'S economic prescription. Are employee or community-led cooperatives viable alternatives? Brecher notes that there is bound to be trouble with employee buyouts if "new democratic structures are simply grafted onto the existing structures of a conventional corporation." (109) This is a key insight. But there is still an unforgiving market to deal with. Can democratic structures be grafted onto capitalism? These local initiatives were quickly crushed by "the policies of neoliberal ne·o·lib·er·al·ism
A political movement beginning in the 1960s that blends traditional liberal concerns for social justice with an emphasis on economic growth.
ne globalization globalization
Process by which the experience of everyday life, marked by the diffusion of commodities and ideas, is becoming standardized around the world. Factors that have contributed to globalization include increasingly sophisticated communications and transportation ." If all we have are heroic defeats, what are we left with? There is no easy answer. Banded Together provides us with an invaluable reflection on one community's imaginative efforts to overcome the bleak economic realities facing industrial regions everywhere and the solidarity that resulted.