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Banded Together

Economic Democratization in the Brass Valley

Jeremy Brecher

Publication Year: 2011

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.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: The Working Class in American History

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. vii-viii

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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. ...

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pp. xi-xii

Hundreds of people have helped me on this project in one way or another over the past quarter century; I thank them all. I would like to acknowledge the leaders, staff, and participants in the Naugatuck Valley Project (NVP) who helped me with this work over the years, including Ken Galdston, Carol Burkhart-Lyons, ...

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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. ...

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1. Roots of Powerlessness in the Brass Valley

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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. ...

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2. Banding Together

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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. ...

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3. Buyout

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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 ...

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4. Organizing

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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. ...

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5. Century Brass

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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. ...

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6. The Life and Death of Seymour Specialty Wire

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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. ...

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7. Founding ValleyCare Cooperative

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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. ...

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8. Taking Care of Business

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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. ...

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9. The Demise of ValleyCare

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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. ...

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10. Brookside Housing Cooperative

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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 ...

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11. Economic Democratization from Below

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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. ...

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12. Afterstories

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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. ...


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pp. 219-240

List of Interviews

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pp. 241-242


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pp. 243-251

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Further Reading, About the Author, Publication Information

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Jeremy Brecher is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, historian, activist, and writer. His other books include Strike! and Globalization from Below: The Power of Solidarity. He lives in western Connecticut.

E-ISBN-13: 9780252093111
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252036125

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: The Working Class in American History

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Social action -- Connecticut -- Naugatuck River Valley.
  • Deindustrialization -- Connecticut -- Naugatuck River Valley -- History.
  • Naugatuck River Valley (Conn.) -- Social conditions.
  • Naugatuck River Valley (Conn.) -- Economic conditions.
  • Brass Workers History Project.
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