Farmers Cooperative Creamery, Milaca, c.1910. Photograph by Palmquist Studio.

A brief history of worker-owned cooperatives in the U.S.

Worker cooperatives like Up & Go have been a leading force in shaping economies around the world for more than a century. Rooted in principles of democracy and equality, cooperatives have consistently provided economic stability, social cohesion, and sustainable development for communities around the world.

The cooperative movement has “deep roots in liberation struggles for economic independence, from reconstruction and the ongoing fight to build Black economic power in the United States, to post-industrial revolution Manchester, UK, and even further back, to indigenous methods of mutual care,” (U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, 2022). New York City’s rise in labor activism in the 20th century drew from these historical roots. Immigrant workers, facing increasingly harsh working conditions and low wages, began forming worker cooperatives to collectively address their challenges. 

The 1950s saw the emergence of cooperative networks like the Arizmendi Association, drawing inspiration from Spain’s Mondragón. At the same time, New York City’s urban renewal efforts led to the creation of affordable housing cooperatives like Amalgamated Houses and the Cooperative Village.

In the 1980s and 1990s, deindustrialization reignited interest in worker cooperatives once more. Organizations like the New York City Network of Worker Cooperatives were formed to support and promote the development of worker cooperatives.

Finally, the 2000s marked a memorable period of growth for worker cooperatives across various industries in New York City. Organizations like the Center for Family Life, Green Worker Cooperatives, and The Working World provided resources and training- specifically for emerging worker cooperatives in the cleaning industry, like Up & Go!

Up & Go upholds the values of the worker cooperative movement throughout the years. Due to our history of unity and activism, worker cooperatives like Up & Go actively collaborate with other cooperatives and non-profits, contributing to a network of shared knowledge and advocacy efforts, and creating a more equitable economy for all.

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