Film Review: Shift Change


Shift Change: Putting Democracy to Work, a documentary film in progress by award-winning filmmakers Melissa Young and Mark Dworkin, tells the stories of employee-owned businesses, and highlights, among other projects, Cleveland’s Evergreen Cooperatives. Young and Dworkin’s recent film,  Good Food was broadcast on PBS in 2010, and also 4 previous productions.  WithShift Change, scheduled to be completed in time for the International Year of the Cooperative in 2012, the filmmakers hope to encourage support for, and real world evidence of the success of, employee ownership models.

Capital Institute spoke recently to Melissa Young about the Shift Change project.

“It is exciting to see so much is happening with employee ownership in North America.  A previous documentary Mark Dworkin and I produced, Argentina—Turning Around, looked at worker-run factories in Argentina shortly after a major economic collapse. WithShift Change we want to show how worker ownership is helping to build resilient communities and businesses that give people a voice and participation in their work life in North America.  That said we are heading off now to film at Spain’s Mondragon Cooperatives, partly because it has a 50-year history of success behind it but also because it demonstrates what an impact focusing on a certain set of values for community development can have.


We will show a variety of places and types of work, plus a whole diversity of structures that include worker ownership and participation in the business process. We are, for example, featuring a few ESOPs in Shift Change.  We found in our research that there are many more ESOPs than worker coops in the US, and that ESOPs are quite effective provided that workers have majority ownership and are really participating in the business decision-making.

Shift Change filmed at this bakery in the Bay Area, one of six independently owned Arizmendi Bakery Cooperatives that have a totally flat management decision-making structure.

“So we filmed at EBO Group in Akron, Ohio, where we got to see everyone contributing to the company and its culture.  We also looked at the Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives, in the Bay area, which are 6 independently-owned co-ops networked together that have a totally flat management decision-making structure.

“Also in the Bay Area we filmed with WAGES, a nonprofit that helps organize housecleaning coops with Latino women, and we have filmed in the Bronx with Cooperative Associates. We also filmed at Equal Exchange, a fair trade coffee roaster cooperative south of Boston which is very much mission driven.

“We filmed at Evergreen as well, which is ambitious and thorough and perhaps the closest effort to what Mondragon was initiated to do in the 1950s in the Basque country.  Evergreen has enlisted many different players and is trying to create an overall development strategy for inner city Cleveland.  We were very impressed and can see why other cities are considering this model.  We plan to visit worker-owned businesses and initiatives  in Madison,  Wisconsin, and Chicago after we visit Mondragon.

“Filming Shift Change has given as the chance to see the power of people cooperating and working together.  In spite of the huge focus on individuals and competition and profit, we do have a tradition in this country of generosity and mutual support.  People seem to be weighed down right now with this sense that there is nothing they can do to affect change in the economic life of this country.   But there are things we can do and models that are already working.  We are hoping with Shift Change  to point out these successes.”

To follow the progress of the filming of Shift Change go here.