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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Cleaning and Care Worker Cooperatives in NYC

Research has shown that worker cooperatives help to circumvent precarious labor conditions (Berry and Bell 2017), reduce income inequality (Jones Austin 2014), and counter economic marginalization (Gordon Nembhard 2014). From a historical viewpoint, the cooperative movement has mostly flourished in economically difficult times: after the Great Depression in 1929, during the years of high unemployment in the 1960s and 1970s, and most recently in the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2007–2008 (Gupta 2014; Jackall and Levin 1984; Pavlovskaya, Safri and Hudson 2016). The financial improvements that arise from worker cooperatives are considerable. However, as I argue in this article, the potential of worker cooperatives goes beyond the economic sphere: individuals acquire knowledge and skills related to business management and collective decision-making, which can lead to greater self-confidence and agency in other spheres of life.

This article is based on the author’s fieldwork in New York City between November 2018 and June 2019. Nine different migrant-led cleaning or care worker cooperatives were selected in order to analyze the changes in the everyday lives of migrant women who had chosen to become members of a worker cooperative. The data includes 20 interviews and three group discussions with mostly female cooperative members and organizers from cooperative incubator organizations, six participant observations, and a quantitative survey filled out by 71 mostly female cooperative members.

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