The Federation for Economic Democracy (or FEDO) was a network of local technical assistance organizations advocating worker cooperatives and self-management from 1975 to 1977 in the eastern United States. The federation's efforts focused on converting closing factories and businesses, an epidemic problem of the era, to democratic workplaces. After its dissolution, some local chapters reorganized as autonomous organizations including Boston's Industrial Cooperative Association (now ICA Group) and the now defunct PACE of Philadelphia
Origins of the Federation In 1975, the network of academics and activist from the Cornell Program on Participation and Labor-Managed Systems, and the International Conferences on Self-Management launched a federation to promote worker cooperatives and labor-management. Economist Jaroslav Vanek began as the chairman, George Benello was staff. William Whyte, who later assumed the chairmanship form Vanek, writes
We aimed to build a national organization that would concentrate on two objectives: (1) providing technical assistance and training to actual or potential employee-owned firm and (2) assuming responsibility for organizing and supporting such firms. Participant Observer. William Whyte, 1994
An early debate within the organization was whether to focus on a grassroots program of starting new workplaces, or respond to the epidemic of factory closings in the area. Benello writes that they
decided to concentrate on plant shutdowns - situations where a viable business had existed but had been closed down for reasons extrinsic to its basic potential. Such shutdowns occur irregularly and are dispersed... The plan was to develop an organization with chapters that would eventually cover major centers along the East Coast and with a governing board made up of delegates from each chapter as well as public figures committed to worker-management. From the Ground Up, George Benello, 1982
By 1977 the federation had dissolved from unrealistic plans and too little capital. Some local chapters of the organization, however, became new organizations. The Boston FEDO chapter became the Industrial Cooperative Association, later ICA Group. The Philadeplphia FEDO chapter became PACE of Philadelphia, and helped to open the O&O Supermarkets in the 1980s.
Comparison to other federations In a 2004 article Len Krimerman compares the first conference of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives to FEDO. ((Krimerman recalls the acronym as standing for Funding and Educational Development Organization)) He suggests the USFWC conference was more practical and less theoretical, and attended less by academics and more be people with "years of active experience in other progressive movements: living wage, social justice, civil rights, student cooperatives, and more. This was hardly the case back in 1974." Krimerman also suggests the conference was structured to be more attendee-directed, "rather than pre-established agendas or priorities."