PT Shipwrights: They Saw, They Conquered

Just a short write up today to acknowledge one of the oldest functioning worker co-ops in Washington: The Port Townsend Shipwrights Cooperative. They started out this journey (or voyage) in 1981 with 8 shipwrights and a ship’s saw. The Co-op History notes that the saw remains in use and became the foundation of the co-op.

I first heard about this co-op when they participated in a documentary that also included Union Cab called Beyond the Bottom Line: American Worker Cooperatives. The filming occurred in 2002 and early cuts aired at the Midwest Regional Worker Co-op Conference in 2003. It was my first step into learning about worker co-ops outside of Union Cab and eventually led me into the national movement.

The Shipwrights were not the most unique co-op in the cohort, but I really enjoyed their vibe. In the film, one of the owners talks about a benefit of cooperative ownership being that one can take off when they need to without worrying about the business. In a 2011 articlei in the PT Leader, it might be the same person who says:

“‘You’ve got some power,” he said. “You’ve got a vote. You don’t have total responsibility. I’ve taken off at times for months for building projects or trips, then come back and tap right in.'”

This is one of the key moments when working with folks on conversions. When they realize that they, as individuals, won’t be chained to the business. Many hands make light work, as the saying goes, and this concept greatly reduces the fear of ownership that sometimes creeps up.


About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-ops in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University.
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