History

History of Our Communities

During a period beginning in the late 1700s and carrying through the mid-1900s, the industrial valleys in the New England states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine were the site of great industrial development, new forms of work organization, pioneering labor strikes, waves of European immigration and, then, relatively rapid industrial decline.

At the height of the industrial age, the Naugatuck Valley of Connecticut was the center of the world's brass industry, the site of Seth Thomas' clockworks, Charles Goodyear's first experiments vulcanizing rubber, and Gail Borden's first successful efforts in evaporating milk.

The Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts, containing two of the first planned industrial cities in the nation, Lowell and Lawrence, was famous as a center of textile and woolen manufacturing for over l25 years. Manchester and Nashua, New Hampshire also sited on the Merrimack River, contained huge textile mills powered by the river's waters.

The Pioneer Valley, in western Massachusetts, had hundreds of paper, firearms, and machine tool manufacturing companies. Along the Connecticut River in Springfield Vermont and Claremont, New Hampshire machine tool firms provided decent jobs for generations of workers. Central Falls, Pawtucket and Providence, Rhode Island was the home of jewelry, auto parts, and other manufacturing companies, as well as the Slater Mill in Pawtucket, one of the earliest factories in the nation.

Places like Springfield, Vermont, the site of machine tool industry, and the Kennebec Valley of Maine, with its paper mills, contributed to the local as well as the state economy.

In a relatively brief period of time, these areas suffered a tremendous loss of skilled, union-represented jobs which paid wages allowing working families to save, buy homes, and put children through college. The decline of manufacturing jobs in the Merrimack Valley began with the move of the mills to the South between 1920 and 1950.

The Naugatuck Valley, Pioneer Valley, Connecticut Valley, Kennebec Valley and Rhode Island suffered the heaviest loss of jobs between 1975 and 1990 through the acquisition of local industrial firms by conglomerates, who rarely invested in them, and who then sold them or shut them down in the flurry of leveraged buy-outs and corporate raiding which dominated this period.

Those losing jobs were both the sons and daughters of the original European immigrants who worked in these factories, and the more recent immigrants to these industrial areas from Latin and Central America, and Southeast Asia. The latter had begun to arrive during periods of turmoil in their native countries and relatively brief periods of industrial revival in our valleys.

This revival was centered in the massive concentration in Southern New England of firms engaged in military production during the Vietnam War and the final years of the Cold War, and for a short time in the high tech firms of the Merrimack Valley.

The current economic crisis echoes, perhaps with even more devastation to our families, region and the nation, the crisis of the early 1980s in which IVP’s first organizing began. We have much to draw on from 30 years of organizing in communities which have never fully escaped from the impact of their earlier loss for today’s challenges.

 

Origins of IVP Model

The loss of these jobs, the dramatic social and economic impact of increased unemployment and underemployment, and the accompanying deteriorating downtowns, loss of decent affordable housing, and cutbacks in public services, left local religious, labor and community leaders searching for a response. In 1983, with the encouragement of an experienced organizer, leaders in one of these valleys, the Naugatuck Valley, organized the Naugatuck Valley Project (NVP), the first of the InterValley Project (IVP) organizations.

From the beginning NVP was designed to take the best elements of institutionally-based, multi-issue citizen organizing and extend them further into new areas of work and new models of organizing. The organizers of the NVP wanted to enable its members to organize effectively around workplace as well as community issues, on a proactive and not just a reactive basis, seizing opportunities to save, stabilize and create jobs, as well as public and private investment for affordable housing, and critical public services.

To do this NVP's organizers created an organization that was regional (to deal with the regional nature of employment) and coalitional (with religious congregations at their heart, but also including labor union locals, tenant, and community organizations).

Most importantly, they built a community organization which combined citizen action and democratic economic development strategies. By "democratic economic development strategies" they meant the creation of new economic entities-such as worker-owned companies, limited equity/sweat equity cooperative housing developments, and community land trusts-which are themselves owned and controlled by their members.

They found this form of development inherently valuable because it preserves assets for future generations, and valuable as well because it's democratic nature is a better fit with the democratically-controlled parent citizen's organization they were organizing.

As NVP's founding organizers were asked to assist other regions of New England build similar organizations, NVP's model became the IVP model of organizing and development, a model which might be called "democratic economic organizing."

 

Formalization of IVP

Since 1983 and the formation of the NVP, we have helped organize four other organizations built on the same model. These are the Merrimack Valley Project (MVP) initiated in 1989, the Rhode Island Organizing Project (RIOP) initiated in 1991, the Pioneer Valley Project (PVP) initiated in 1994, the Granite State Organizing Project (GSOP) in 2001, Kennebec Valley Organization (KVO in 2004, and United Valley Interfaith Project (UVIP) in 2005.  We are currently helping religious leaders create an eighth IVP member organization in the Berkshire region of western Massachusetts.

In 1995 these original four organizations decided to formalize their relationship with each other and combine efforts in common issue and economic development organizing, joint leadership and staff development, and building a network.

By June 1997, IVP members had created a board of directors, and hired Kenneth Galdston as the IVP's first full-time Director/Organizer. Galdston had played a key role as the founding organizer of NVP and MVP, and as an advisor in the creation of each of these organizations.

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