This article considers the unemployed cooperative movement in Depression-era Los Angeles, an understudied component of unemployed organizing in the 1930s. Cooperativism allowed unemployed people to avoid material deprivation and build political power, but it also became a site of sharp political contestation. I examine how conservative elites intervened in a movement that was in many ways politically ambiguous. These conservatives saw both danger and possibility in the movement—danger because economic collectivism hinted at a socialist ethos, and possibility because it offered a way for poor people to provide for themselves without state support. To describe how these elites gained influence over the movement, I analyze the proceedings of a cooperative convention held in Los Angeles in 1933. I show how elites at the convention gave material support to cooperative leaders and rhetorically crafted a conservative version of cooperativism that emphasized anti-communism, self-sufficiency, and nativism.

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