In Memory: Adams was “Giant” of the Worker Cooperative Movement


Frank Adams, a visionary educator and veteran of the worker cooperative movement, passed away March 16, 2017. A founding board member of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, Adams spent his career changing the nature of work and expanding the power of ownership. NCBA CLUSA is deeply saddened by this loss. What follows is a reflection on Adams’ legacy written by Rebecca Bauen, Senior Program Director at the Democracy at Work Institute, and first published by USFWC: 

This week we mourn the passing of Frank Adams, a giant in the worker cooperative movement. Frank is known best for his seminal work, Putting Democracy to Work: A Practical Guide to Starting and Managing Worker Owned Businesses (with Gary B. Hansen). We also know Frank as a champion for building a movement of worker cooperatives and as a founding board member of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives (from 2004-06).

  • Frank was an educator, historian and writer. He was also a colleague and mentor to many of us.

Frank was the best teacher I have ever had. He embedded in me the belief that education is foundational for shared ownership to really take hold. And, he was committed to exploring this right to the end. When I visited Frank in Knoxville a year ago this March, I was looking for ideas about how to form a school to teach participatory management and the culture of worker ownership. Frank shared with me his research on a little-known school called the Work People’s College organized by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in the early 1900s in the upper Midwest that taught immigrant workers to become managers and owners of their own businesses.

This wasn’t the first time we’d talked about education for ownership. It began in the winter of 1996 when Frank shared his library with me and we met weekly in his Boston home to talk about the books he had had me read on the English levelers, Kant, management theory, organized labor, worker self-management and radical adult education. He helped me build a theoretical, historical, philosophical and practical foundation for starting worker cooperatives, teaching about them, and now, through my work at DAWI, building the leadership of the next generation of worker cooperative developers.

Frank offered the gift of his intellect, experience and insight to so many of us committed to changing the nature of work, the direction of capital and expanding the power of ownership. His oftentimes thorny provocations made us tougher for the battle.

The work continues, and Frank, your legacy lives on.

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