For a long time after college in my early work years I often thought that hard work was what propelled me forward, what earned me opportunities and put me in a position to move ahead in my career. That is partly true; however, many many people in America today work extremely hard and will never have the same opportunities I do.
I grew up with hard work just being a way of life. My dad was a small business owner. With 20-30 employees and a lot of weight on his shoulders he worked 12-hour days. It was common to miss him in the mornings before he left for work and not see him until 6 or 7pm at night. I don’t remember a particular mantra around hard work but I do remember this pervasive feeling that if you want anything in life or if you want to “get somewhere” in life then you have to work hard. (I’m not even sure my ideas back then of what it meant to “get somewhere” are relevant now).
What I have come to see as I’ve gotten older are important values that were instilled in me from an early age that relate to work ethic – these include a certain stubbornness and resiliency. I think our community has also inherited these traits. Being on the edge of Appalachia and the mountains there is a sense in our community that ‘you can fix anything with duct tape’. This resiliency and self-reliance has certainly been infused into and has influenced our work at The Industrial Commons.
We are a nonprofit that incubates worker owned businesses and cooperative industry networks while also offering a range of workplace development programing. We focus on place (western to middle North Carolina) and industry (manufacturing). Our theory of change is that we organize workers into small to mid-size workplaces, then organize those workplaces into industry based cooperative networks. We believe this will lead to the highest concentration of cooperatively based businesses in the United States. We have a staff of 12, most of who we hire directly form the manufacturing frontlines. We are building a cooperatively based ecosystem.
When we think about the future, we often frame that around how we want our community to look in the future. I’d like our community to be a place where hard work once again leads to a life that sustains a family. A place where people don’t have to work 2 or 3 jobs to get by and where people don’t feel beholden to companies and jobs that don’t provide them with wages and benefits that sustain their family. My question is this – how we can accelerate that change and leverage all the good work happening here to bring about this change quicker and more broadly?