In the 19th century, the Merrimack Valley, with its miles of red brick mills, was the birthing ground of America’s industrial revolution. Mill and factory jobs sustained the Valley’s economy for over 100 years. Beginning in the 1950s, the region began losing thousands of quality manufacturing jobs to cheaper labor markets in southern U.S. states, and later overseas. By the 1980s, the majority of the old mill jobs were gone. Meanwhile, an influx of Latino, Southeast Asian, and later, African immigrant groups transformed the face of the Valley’s cities. The combination of job losses and new immigration spurred an exodus of white, middle-class residents to the suburbs, creating dramatic economic and racial segregation.
In 1989, a group of faith, labor, and community leaders created the Merrimack Valley Project to unite people across the region’s widening racial, ethnic, and economic rifts in common action to strengthen our communities. Since 1989, people like the Rev. Victor Jarvis, an evangelical pastor from Lawrence, Annia Lembert, a Dominican immigrant and Malden Mills inspector and union member in Lawrence, Father Jim Dukowski, a Catholic priest from Lowell, and Eric Kintner, a physicist from an Episcopal church in Westford have worked together to save over 1,600 manufacturing jobs in the Valley, protect over 600 units of affordable housing, improve the job prospects of the region’s growing temporary worker population, and bring over $10 million to the Valley for housing, job training, and community development.
MVP’s innovative campaigns to fight plant closings, create democratic economic institutions such as the tenant-owned Amesbury Gardens in Lawrence, and to address the explosive growth of the temporary labor industry, which employs over 15,000 Valley residents and 70,000 people in Massachusetts, have offered state-wide and national organizing models and have had an impact far beyond our region.
Today, MVP is made up of 27 member groups, including congregations, local labor unions, and community-based organizations from Amesbury, Andover, Chelmsford, Haverhill, Lawrence, Lowell, North Andover, and Westford.
We are now part of a growing faith-and-values-based organizing movement in America. In 1998, MVP helped found the InterValley Project, a regional organizing network that unites the power of 6 community organizations to advance faith-and-values-based organizing throughout New England.