The Beloit Iron Works and the submergence of class struggle

The history of class struggle in the Beloit Iron Works and how the company responded to it and kept it to a minimum.

Submitted by tastybrain on April 28, 2011

This paper concerns class struggle---or its absence---in a factory in one American town. The Beloit Iron Works, or the Beloit Corporation as it was known after 1962, was a company founded in the late nineteenth century that primarily manufactured paper-making machines and was the leader in its industry. Beloit, Wisconsin is a small city located at the southern extreme of Wisconsin, right next to the Illinois border. At first glance, Beloit seems a strange place to look for class fault-lines in the edifice of American society; the town is fiercely proud of its identity and unwaveringly patriotic. While class inequality is manifestly preset, class divisions within the town do not appear to exist on a subjective level. There is no explicit radical tradition, either current or historical, which could unify and justify the incidental conflicts that arise from the labor process. Nevertheless, class struggle is and was a reality in Beloit. These incidents of contention which arise largely from class relations in production, however, have never coalesced into a broader challenge to the system overall, nor have they led to new ways of seeing the world in which “the laboring class and the employing class have nothing in common”. Beloit's ruling class has managed to limit the damage inflicted by class struggle, and to preempt the formation of revolutionary class-consciousness, by actively fostering a way of thinking which sees the interests of capital and labor as fundamentally aligned. Despite momentous changes in the demographics of the town, the structure of the economy, and the nature of labor-management relations, this emphasis on community remains constant as a strategy for capital. The history of the Beloit Iron Works is a history of a local bourgeoisie using conceptions of community to subsume the specificity of proletarian interests.

Before proceeding, however, it is important to define “class” for the purposes of this study. Class is not a label or a set of neat categories to place every individual in. It is a social relationship which entails, in the context of capitalism, the sale of labor on the part of the worker to a capitalist who buys the worker's labor-power and uses it in the production process to realize a profit and increase his or her capital. Classes do not exist as separate, a priori categories which then come into conflict. Rather, they are defined by this very conflict. Individuals may occupy multiple roles during their lifetime, as the original founders of Beloit Iron Works did, and even do so simultaneously. However, the fact that some individuals occupy class positions which defy pat categorization does not preclude struggle. The class structure in effect today, with all its complexity and ambiguity, is a product of yesterday's class struggles.

Class struggle has always been a contentious phenomenon --- both because of its very nature as conflict and due to the high-stakes ideological battle waged over what to make of it. To Marx and his 'scientific socialist' followers class struggle was a revolutionary force, one which was destined to completely overthrow capitalist society.1 Conservatives, on the other hand, have seen in class struggle the dissolution of society; its protagonists, they contend, will destroy society by refusing to conform to their 'place' in it.2 Furthermore, they are willing to use criminality to further their own selfish ends. Between these extremes are a variety of more moderate viewpoints; Social Democrats and other “progressive” political tendencies have viewed strikes and labor agitation as regrettable necessities to be overcome by state action, which can include regulation which makes the conditions of labor more humane and state-backed arbitration between labor and management.3

These differing conceptions diverge from each other not only in their general orientation towards class struggle, their approval or disapproval, but in their conception of how it works. Marxists tend to emphasize material factors, viewing workers, as one critic charged, as an "abstract mass in the grip of an abstract force" whereas the practical-minded labor movement "holds the concrete workingmen in the center of its vision".4 Many thinkers disagree with the Marxist approach, which they see as an overly mechanistic interpretation of class struggle, and emphasize institutional and cultural factors.

Like all sweeping categories, the risk of giving in to sterile abstractions which impede rather than assist one's understanding of reality is inherent to the use of “class struggle” as an idea. In order to make class struggle a useful tool of analysis, it must be applied to specific events. Choosing the Beloit Iron Works as a case study has several merits, the most obvious being that choosing to research the town I currently live in makes my job much easier. I have access to local knowledge and history and it is easier to picture how events happened. Beyond my own convenience, I chose to look at class struggle in the Beloit Iron Works because it was not particularly striking as a hotbed of class warfare. Indeed, my inquiry has shown that Beloit had comparatively placid labor relations, and that class contradictions were largely overshadowed by the cohesion and unity prevalent in both factory and town. There is a tendency for commentators on class struggle, especially those on the left who are in favor of it, to focus on the most extreme and revolutionary tendencies. This is understandable given the central place of class struggle in the left-wing concept of revolution; since class struggle, it is hoped, will lead to the revolution, the struggles most interesting to these observers are those with an overtly revolutionary quality. Thus little emphasis is placed on the way class struggle is mitigated, transcended, and overcome by capitalism. This process must be understood if we are to make the more radical manifestations of class conflict explicable. Beloit, Wisconsin offers an example of one locality in space and time where class conflict has been effectively overcome with a minimum of disturbance. As such, it affords an opportunity for analyzing how capital manages to suppress its own contradictions.

The 'suppression' of capital's contradictions in this context should not conjure up images of police/military brutality, censorship, or any of the other forms of violent, direct suppression. In this case the 'suppression' of class struggle was largely accomplished through what Antonio Gramsci called, “the 'spontaneous' consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group.”5 Generally speaking, the managers and executives of Beloit Iron Works never had to resort to force or other crude means to direct social life; instead they persuaded the workers to believe ― correctly or not ― that their interests coincided with those of the 'dominant group'.

To comprehend this process, however, one must move away from abstract theories and examine the setting in which they are applied. An understanding of local conditions is essential, since class struggle always adapts itself along local lines and is circumscribed by its setting. To understand class struggle in the Beloit Iron Works, one must keep the region the B.I.W. was part of firmly in mind. Wisconsin was first settled by whites in the 1830s after the Black Hawk War effectively eliminated the problem of Native American claims to the land. Once this was accomplished Wisconsin was fertile territory for economic development. Southern Wisconsin was largely flat prairie suitable for farming, while the northern part of this new state had large forests which could be exploited to meet the booming demand for lumber.6

Wisconsin's abundance of natural resources would become a source of wealth for the Beloit Corporation later on. Beloit, as a town in the southernmost part of Wisconsin on a river suitable for damming, became a local hub of manufacturing and used water power to facilitate metalworks production.7 The town made farming equipment for surrounding rural communities as well as milling their flour. Early development of Beloit's infrastructure and industrial facilities made it a suitable place to set up factories. Later, Wisconsin's successful foray into the paper-making industry, enabled by the proximity of vast timber resources in the north, provided a strong demand for industrial paper-processing equipment. Many of these machines were initially imported from the east coast; the predecessors of Beloit Iron Work realized that they could make the same parts that were being shipped from eastern factories locally and sell them for less.8 Soon Beloit was not merely manufacturing replacement parts but entire paper-making machines.

It began in 1885 as a start-up with an initial investment of $4,200 and only ten employees; by the start of the twentieth century, the Beloit Iron Works was a growing corporation with about $300,000-400,000 in yearly sales.9 It had introduced technical innovations into the production process for paper and had built up a network of customers.10 Beloit Iron Works' sales and prestige would continue to grow ― with some fits and starts ― throughout most of the twentieth century. Beloit Iron Works employees for the most part were content to be part of such a dynamic organization and did not rock the boat too much. In 1903, when Beloit had the highest rate of union membership in the state of Wisconsin, B.I.W. workers were still unorganized.11 Part of this was probably the pay they were given, two dollars and fifty cents a day, which, according to Hodge, was 'competitive.'12 But more important than this was the subjective aspect of their experience.

Part of securing the “spontaneous consent” necessary for production to go forward is giving the workers something they can believe in. Creating the company as something which was larger than the individual, something which he or she could take pride in and identify with, has been an effective strategy for capital. In his study of the Beloit Corporation's history, Robert Hodge uses the word 'paternalism' to describe the company's management style.13 This is partially correct since the attitude that the company had the workers' best interests at heart and would serve these interests if given the opportunity was common among both managers and workers. For example, in 1937 Elbert H. Neese Sr., president of the firm from 1931 to 1952, testified to the National Labor Relations Board (N.L.R.B) that “I feel we have done pretty well [making the B.I.W. a good place to work] and that labor unions in the Beloit Iron Works are unnecessary. . . if we make some money we want to share it.”14 In this sense the word is appropriate. However, it is also misleading in that it conjures up images of feudal deference and servility to the boss. In fact, the main reason Beloit Iron Works employees were so “faithful, competent, and loyal” during this time is because they felt they were equal partners in the production process.15

In the case of the Beloit Iron Works the creation of consent ― accomplished by fostering a sense of cross-class community ― was easier than usual because the company did indeed accomplish a great deal which was impressive and worthy of pride. It had grown from a modest investment made by four 'native sons' of ordinary means into a thriving corporation which was worth millions of dollars, and, more importantly, was the leading firm in its industry. The Beloit Iron Works was a source of pride because, “not only is it one of the best factories in the country, but it is a Beloit industry, built with Beloit brains and Beloit energy by Beloit boys, or men who were Beloit boys.”16 In fostering the feelings of pride necessary for a sense of community the company played up the importance of expertise and 'people' to their success. In texts about and by the company the theme of 'people' as B.I.W/Beloit Corporation's most important asset reoccurs frequently.17 The success of B.I.W.'s efforts to create a sense of community went a long way to furthering good labor relations and a smooth production process. For example, when a machinist who had worked at B.I.W. for more than forty years died, the whole plant was shut down in mourning.18 Evidently these feelings were mutual; about a decade earlier, in 1889, Fred Messer, the company's first president, died of pneumonia, and over seventy five of the company's one hundred and twenty five employees attended his funeral.19 In an 1890 article about the Beloit Iron Works, a section on the new plant notes that “the shops are heated by the hot air system and every attention has been given to sanitary arrangement for the comfort and convenience of the men. . . we hope [the company] will find much to do and do profitably both to the the employers and those employed.”20 In the post-war years that sense of community was at least partially disrupted by unionization and strikes. It was, however, what enabled the Beloit Iron Works to resist unionization for such a long time and remained an important force until the closing of the plant at the end of the twentieth century.

President Aldrich ran the Works from 1889 to 1931.21 He worked hard to foster this sense of community even as B.I.W. changed and expanded His management methods were very personal: he would start the day with a tour of the factory floor and his workers “got used to the feel of his breath upon the back of their necks”.22 He strove to balance the efficiency necessary to run a major firm with good labor relations and a sense of community in the plant. To further the latter goal he once gave a worker who complained “that Aldrich's work shoes were better than his Sunday best” ten dollars to purchase new shoes.23 One of the most striking pieces of evidence showing the 'paternalism' present in the Beloit Iron Works is that it was known colloquially as the “Old Folks' Home” because of the relatively advanced years of many of the workers. As late as 1968 conception of the plant was still evident: in the company publication “Partners”, an article entitled “Kindred Sowls” profiles the eponymous Sowl brothers who all worked at the Beloit Iron Works for decades and whose father had worked in the plant. The fact that Harold Sowl was also the treasurer of the International Association of Machinists (I.A.M.) Local 1197 demonstrates that 'paternalistic' conceptions of factory community were not incompatible with union membership and participation.24 The low turnover rate implied by the moniker “Old Folks Home” indicates that the community aspect of B.I.W., combined with decent wages, was of real effect in securing the loyalty of workers.25

Nevertheless, there seemed to be increasing tensions working to disrupt the pacific labor relations that had thus far prevailed. The militant open-shop campaign of the Beloit Employer's Association ― or the “Citizen's Alliance” ―, which had wiped out early union gains in Beloit, was made illegal by the passage of the Wagner Act, approved by the Supreme Court in 1937, allowing for a resurgence of organized labor.26 It took a while, however, before this trend reached the Iron Works. The thirties, perhaps because of the abysmal condition of the labor market, passed with little worker intransigence to disturb the smooth operation of the factory. A few events arose to presage things to come: In 1937 the company was forced to defend itself from charges of unfair labor practices after the I.A.M took exception to the company's firing of four of their organizers, and in the same year the B.I.W.'s patternmakers were unionized and launched a strike in solidarity with another group of striking patternmakers, although it was soon called off.27 More significant was the unionization drive of 1944 which culminated in the eventual unionization of the Beloit Iron Works' machinists under the auspices of the N.L.R.B.28

From its founding in 1885 all the way into the 1930's, Beloit Iron Works remained an open-shop company whose workforce did not engage in any kind of overt agitation or disruption of the production process. Robert Hodge describes the B.I.W. workers in the pre-war period as “faithful, competent, and loyal,” as well as conservative. While non-union businesses were commonplace in this era, labor complacency was hardly the norm; in 1886 the Knights of Labor, an industrial union opposed to the wage system, had over ten times the membership it had claimed in 1884, and at the same time anarchism was on the rise among the working class, as the Haymarket affair and anarchist involvement with the eight hour movement showed plainly.29 Radicalism was cropping up among the workers in alarming ways. In 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World, an industrial union based on principles of anarchism and socialism, was founded in Chicago and would go on to wield a greater influence than its relatively small membership would suggest by pushing the mainstream unions in a more militant direction.30 A gigantic strike wave seized the country in 1919; the city of Seattle experienced a general strike which saw effective control of the city ceded to the organized strikers for several days until the strike was crushed.31 In 1936 a sit-down strike erupted at GM factories in Flint, Michigan which lasted more than six weeks.32 The point of presenting these diverse tendencies and examples is that the labor movement in the pre-war era, despite a lack of government recognition, was a a powerful force in America nonetheless. Radicalism, both in the movement's tactics and its goals, was decidedly present. In the B.I.W., therefore, the fact that none of these movements had a discernible influence points to the intervention of other factors. The combination of “paternalism”, a belief in the inherent beneficence of management and unity of the company community across class lines, and relatively good conditions and wages kept Beloit Iron Works employees from rebelling.

Gradually, however, the atmosphere in the plant shifted from one characterized by the pure “paternalism” of the open shop ―preserving management's prerogative for complete control and the right to hire and fire at will― to one modified by collective bargaining. However, even with unionization, the ideological presence of “paternalism” still maintained its presence. The shift to collective bargaining was gradual and unmarred by violence or excessive strife, unlike the unionization drives that occurred in many other firms during this era. The transition took place against the backdrop of World War Two, and readers should bear two somewhat contradictory tendencies about this period in mind:
1: War tends to solidify national identity and often unifies the citizens, overcoming differences ― whether they be political, class-based, or racial ― that are more prominent in times of peace.
2: During World War Two, class conflict was endemic on the home front. Workers in many industrial cities important to the war effort used the labor scarcity and the added importance of production during war to increase their bargaining power vis a vis the bosses.33

It seems that for the duration of the war B.I.W. workers were more affected by the former trend than the latter. There was a high level of patriotism in the town.34 Beloit Iron Works itself was converted to wartime production and produced Corvette engines for British frigates35. In November of 1943 the factory was presented with the Army/Navy ‘E for Excellence’ award for the exemplary efficiency and performance of the plant in manufacturing these engines.36 B.I.W. employees were presented with pins bearing the “E” insignia honoring them for their contribution to the war effort on November 26th.37 Some B.I.W. workers participated in volunteer civilian groups devoted to first aid, firefighting, and plant policing.38 The June 1942 issue of Paperchine, an internal publication clearly meant for employees, contains some interesting propaganda. On page five, with absolutely no context or explanation, is a racist caricature of a stereotypical Japanese man in front of the classic mugshot backdrop with the caption “we snapped a Jap”. In the same issue, page thirteen is devoted to an image of a heroic-looking soldier standing in the smoke produced by a bustling factory. He is reaching down to the factory as if for help; in the bottom left corner is a picture of a worker with the caption 'it all depends on me'.39 For the duration of the war, in Beloit as in other places, workers were exhorted to put patriotic considerations over their own aspirations and further the cause of national unity.

Despite this deluge of nationalist propaganda and patriotic participation in the war effort, Iron Works employees did not forget their class position as workers. The International Association of Machinists local 1197 became the recognized bargaining representative of the B.I.W. machinists in 1944; apparently there were limits to paternalism’s influence.40 E.H. Neese wrote an open letter days before the vote on union recognition urging workers to ask themselves “whether any outsider can do more for us than we have been able to do for ourselves working in close harmony in a common cause for our common good.”41 The workers no longer believed Neese's goodwill was enough to ensure their interests were looked after, as they had in 1937 when the unionization of the plant was voted down. Perhaps they saw the contradiction between the exhortations of unity coming from the government and the insistence of Neese and other company leaders, who had become local elites, on unilateral control over the production process and the conditions of labor. Another possible factor behind this unprecedented event in the company's history was the tenor of the times. Unionization was increasing nation-wide and the National War Labor Board brought government power to bear in settling industrial conflicts, which curbed the open-shop fervor of many companies even as it caused union leadership to grow more “responsible” and adamant in controlling strikes.42 With increasing numbers of workers unionizing across the country, especially in heavy industry and manufacturing, many B.I.W. employees must have wondered why they remained unrepresented.

Whatever the reason, the era of pure ‘paternalism’ was gone forever. With a growing workforce the executives could not know every worker personally, as had been the case in the old days. According to Hodge, the new generation of workers was younger and more militant, demanding higher wages as the company’s profits increased.43 Nevertheless, 'paternalism' remained a significant force. It seems that Neese's appeal to the workers not to strike in 1945 was successful partly because he convinced them the strike could harm them, the company, and the overall Beloit community.44

Despite the continued relevance of community feeling which deemphasized divisions within the town, the new militancy made itself felt with the 1951 strike of the machinists. Hodge described this strike as “a real conflict,” lasting fifty days.45 Another strike, in 1966, lasted sixty-five days.46 Strikes continued throughout the seventies: there was a strike in 1974 and another in 1979.47 The former saw more overt conflict, with management locking out the strikers, who responded by slashing their tires. The latter was even more contentious, with a manager hanged in effigy by the strikers. The last strike at the Beloit Iron Works was not carried out by the I.A.M. but by the Patternmaker's union, in 1984, over conflicts regarding wages and the health plan.48 Another fact that indicates the changing character of the plant was the result of an OSHA investigation in 1981; the regulatory agency found that some workers were exposed to dangerous levels of toxic silica dust, open electrical boxes, excessive noise, and poorly secured loads hanging overhead and an investigation into the deaths of two workers ensued, one of whom died of lung cancer. Damningly, Beloit Corporation had been already been warned of this safety violation in 1973.49 Clearly paternalism was breaking down in the waning years of the twentieth century. But evidence that it never died out completely can be found in the general pride in the corporation still expressed by many, including ex-employees.50

Since newspaper coverage for the 1966 strike is most abundant, I have chosen it as a case study of the way the new post-war militancy interacted and conflicted with older paternalistic conceptions of community binding workers, town, and company together. The strike began because the machinists were dissatisfied with the wages offered to them by the company at the bargaining table and withdrew their labor in response, restricting production. They were called back by the company when local 1197 was able to negotiate a new contract they deemed acceptable. The new contract raised wages by twenty-six percent and specified a fifteen cent hourly increase to be added on in April of 1967. Tom Ferguson, the union president, stated “we got what we were after.”51 Another consequence of the 1966 strike was the elimination of the incentive system of pay. The goal of this was twofold: to increase the salaries of workers not benefiting from incentive pay and to increase worker solidarity by paying everyone the same amount.

The way this labor conflict was talked about by the press and the company was revealing. The issue of The Beloit Daily News cited above focuses on the damage done by the strike to the local economy. The vice president of the Association of Commerce said that the strike was hard on local businesses and that since it was over, “we can get back to the business at hand of building a thriving Beloit which is dependent on full employment.” Another article on the same page details how Harry C. Moore, E.H. Neese's replacement as company president, reacted to the strike. Moore “said the firm's working 'Beloit Team' should let bygones be bygones and resume 'building the finest paper machinery available'. . . the agreement represents concessions on both sides”. Moore insinuates that the machinists acted irresponsibly:

"the financial and other concessions impose additional burdens on our operations and we will need the cooperation of all our employees to insure the continued success of our company... a strike is always a regrettable situation. . . it will take a great deal of effort for us to retain and in many cases, in fact, recapture the confidence of those many customers adversely effected by the strike. . . [the company is willing to] let bygones be bygones."

The article adds that the strike was costly for the community, the workers, the company, and to customers. A third article, a very brief editorial, says that “in a sense strikes are disputes between labor and management, and a settlement would indicate that there is a winner and a loser. This depends on a point of view. We neither congratulate nor extend condolences. We say let's get Beloit Corp ― and Beloit ― back into high gear. There is much to be done.”52

The interesting thing about these sources is the continued claim they make that the corporation, town, and workers share the same fundamental interests. By focusing on the negative effects the strike had on local merchants, the article implicitly blames the workers for holding back economic growth. Harry C. Moore admonishes the workers for damaging “our” company but makes himself and Beloit Corporation management look benevolent and high-minded by stating he is willing to “let bygones be bygones”. The editorial stakes out a position of neutrality but reaffirms the cardinal importance of getting “Beloit Corporation ― and Beloit ― back into high gear”. This feeds nicely into the attitude that anything which disrupts this engine of growth ― like a strike ― is inherently destructive.

Conspicuously absent from this discussion is acknowledgment of the fact that in the decade before 1963, sales increased from 26 to 86 million dollars, indicating that it would not be unreasonable by any standards for the machinists to ask for a substantial pay increase.53 Also missing is the point of view that the company, far from being a victim of union intransigence, failed to grant the reasonable requests of local 1197 and therefore brought any turmoil in the production process or the selling of finished goods on itself. Evidently Beloit Corporation still had a culture of 'paternalism', at least among management, which used appeals to the 'greater good' of the company and the community in an attempt to shame workers into obedience.

Overall the experience of Beloit Corporation workers was one of class struggle submerged under the surface of capitalist normalcy, with working class militancy only occasionally rearing its ugly head. It was not alienation and atomization that sabotaged class struggle but feelings of solidarity and unity. The workers who toiled in BIW's facilities saw the world in largely the same way their bosses did and never broke with this consciousness. They contested the distribution of the economic pie, desiring a greater share for themselves, but never conceptualized a world without capitalists and workers, or if they did never acted on these ideas. In trying to understand the development of capitalism, it is just as important to ask questions about mental conceptions as it is to study material conditions. While paternalism was not successful in maintaining a complete monopoly of control over production, it was very effective in creating a world view that saw the interests of capital and labor as aligned.


In 1986, Elbert Neese Jr. sold the Beloit Corporation to a Milwaukee-based paper and mining company, Harnischfeger Industries, for $175,000,000, citing the financial interests of the Neese family.54 On June 7th, 1999, Harnischfeger Industries declared bankruptcy. Their CEO told the media that “prompt and decisive action” would be taken to reverse the “impairment of our capital structure.”55

This spelled disaster for the men and women who worked in Beloit Corporation plants, not only in Beloit itself but in Illinois, Massachusetts, and other subsidiaries further afield. Beloit workers who had earned $17-20 an hour faced the prospect of being hurled back into the job market to work for as little as eight dollars an hour.56 Workers in Dalton, MA, marched in protest of the plant closures. One employee said “We worked 90-hour weeks this summer. . . they said that if we showed a good value they wouldn't close us.”57 The collapse of Harnischfager was “largely as a result of highly risky and failed Indonesian paper and pulp investments.”58 In the year 2000, the Beloit Iron Works “closed its doors forever.”59 Many Beloit workers were not given the severance pay or health benefits they had been promised; as of 2005, almost four hundred ex Beloit Corp. workers were still in court, battling the re-constituted Harnischfager, now known as “Joy Global”. The workers were suing for the severance pay owed to them by the company and an additional $10 million in punitive damages, coming to $15 million overall.60 In September 2010, a Delaware federal court ruled against the workers and their claim was denied.61 In an ironic and undoubtedly infuriating development for many laid off Beloit workers, former Harnichfager CEO Jeff Grade, characterized by one financial publication's editorialist as “Harnichfager's gravedigger”, was also suing for a severance package: he wanted 5.8 million dollars for himself.62 In 2002, partly as a result of the layoffs, the Beloit-Janesville area had an unemployment rate quadruple that of the Wisconsin average.63 Many laid-off workers blamed the new owners for the plant closure, and indeed, a convincing case could be made for their culpability.64 However, the blame was always placed on the shoulders of particular managers or the new holding company rather than the system as a whole. In a capitalist system, the owning class demands unilateral control over their capital and the right to do what they please with it. Indeed, the mobility of capital has recently been celebrated by pundits as one of the new era of globalization's cardinal virtues.65 Thus, workers can hardly be consistent in their objection to plant closures without also objecting to the social relationship which puts all the power over production into the hands of an elite class. However, there is no evidence that the working class in Beloit ever reached this conclusion: they failed to go from anger directed at a certain company to a critique of the system as a whole. Workers largely bit their tongues and moved on, working even harder to make ends meet.66 No collective resistance to the destruction of their jobs and their community (Beloit lost almost seven million dollars from its tax base as a result of Beloit Corporation's liquidation, with corresponding cuts in social service) seemed possible.67 In this case, the paucity of anti-capitalist ideas and values which could have been used to galvanize resistance to the plant closings meant that Beloit's working class could do little besides move on to other jobs or languish in unemployment.


1 “An oppressed class is the vital condition for every society founded on the antagonism of classes. The emancipation of the oppressed class thus implies necessarily the creation of a new society.” Karl Marx, “The Poverty of Philosophy,” in Karl Marx: Selected Writings, ed. David McLellan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000,) 232.

2 For example Burke states that “never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience. . . which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of freedom” (my emphasis.) Edmund Burke, “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” in Dogmas & Dreams, ed. Nancy S. Love (Washington DC: CQ Press, 2006,) 159.

3 Bernstein states that “The whole practical activity of social democracy is directed towards creating circumstances and conditions which shall render possible and secure a transition (free from convulsive outbursts) [to socialism]” (my emphasis. Eduard Bernstein, “Evolutionary Socialism,” in Dogmas & Dreams, ed. Nancy S. Love (Washington DC: CQ Press, 2006,) 324.

4 This is somewhat unfair: Marx distinguished the working class “in itself”, i.e. defined economically, with class “for itself”, a working class that had become conscious of itself and revolutionary.

5 John Storey, Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1998), 214.

6 Robert W. Ozanne, The Labor Movement In Wisconsin(Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1984), 3.

7 Here I am citing an excellent unpublished history by a Beloit College professor and a colleague. Since the overall work has no official title, I will cite each section separately. Robert Hodge and Larry Ely, “Earliest Forerunners of the Beloit Corporation,” (Unpublished), 1-2.

8 Hodge and Ely, “Earliest Forerunners of the Beloit Corporation,” 7-8. “From 1860 to 1890, paper production in WI and MI alone increased from 1.2 to 8.5 percent of total paper production in the United States”

9 Luigi Bagnato, Sacrificial Lamb: The Beloit Corporation Story (self-published); Robert Hodge and Larry Ely, “Beloit Corporation: 'Your Partner in Papermaking',” 1, 25.

10 Hodge and Ely, “Beloit Corporation,” 32, 27. Also see Hodge and Ely, “Pioneer Paper Machines,” for year-by-year summaries containing lists of machines sold.

11 Ozanne, The Labor Movement In Wisconsin, 28; Hodge and Ely, “Beloit Corporation,” 29.

12 Hodge and Ely, “Beloit Corporation,” 25.

13 Hodge and Ely, “Beloit Corporation,” 106. Hodge refers to E.H. Neese as a “truly paternalistic force”. The word resurfaces throughout Hodge's history.

14 Bagnato, Sacrificial Lamb, 119; Hodge and Ely, “Beloit Corporation”, 108.

15 Hodge and Ely, “Beloit Corporation,” 25.

16 Hodge and Ely, “Pioneer Paper Machines,” 44.

17 For example, an advertisement for the Iron Works states that “we wish we could introduce you personally to every member of our team. . . 1700 capable men and women.”

18 Hodge and Ely, “Beloit Corporation,” 30.

19 Bagnato, Sacrificial Lamb, 46; Hodge and Ely, “Beloit Corporation,” 8.

20 The article is reproduced in Hodge and Ely, “Pioneer Paper Machines,” 44.

21 Bagnato, Sacrificial Lamb, 74.

22 Hodge and Ely, “Beloit Corporation,” 45-46.

23 Hodge and Ely, “Beloit Corporation,” 46.

24 Partners, Winter 1968, 18, Beloit College Archive, Morse Library, Beloit, WI.

25 Hodge and Ely, “Beloit Corporation,” 46.

26 Nelson Lichtenstein, State of the Union: A Century of American Labor (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), 52; Ozanne, The Labor Movement In Wisconsin, 30.

27 Hodge and Ely, “Beloit Corporation”, 107.

28 Hodge and Ely, “Beloit Corporation,” 131-132.

29 Jeremy Brecher, Strike!, (Boston: South End Press, 1997), 42-46; For more information on the Haymarket affair and the eight hour movement in Chicago, which was infused with radical politics, see James R. Green, Death in the Haymarket (New York: Random House, 2006.)

30 Paul Frederick Brissenden, The IWW: A Study of American Syndicalism (New York: Longmans, Green, & Co, 1920), 57, 114.

31 David Joseph Goldberg, Discontented America: the United States in the 1920s (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1999), 66; James A. Crutchfield, It Happened in Washington (Guilford, CT: Morris Book Publishing, 2008), 105-108.

32 Aaron Brenner, Benjamin Day, Immanuel Ness eds., The Encyclopedia of Strikes in American History (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2009), 205-206.

33 See, for example, Richard L Pifer, “Worker Militancy and Wartime Industrial Conflict,” in A City At War:Milwaukee Labor During World War II (Madison: Historical Society Press, 2003), 89-92, and Jeremy Brecher, “The War and Post-War Strike Wave,” in Strike! (Boston: South End Press, 1997), 240. Brecher cites statistics that show that 1944 experienced more strikes than any previous year in American history. Pifer emphasizes the short length of strikes but as Brecher points out, this may be due to workers achieving their goals more quickly (or being defeated by the business-union-government alliance).

34 Hodge and Ely, “Beloit Corporation,” 122.

35 Hodge and Ely, “Beloit Corporation,” 124.

36 Beloit Daily News, November 28th, 1943 issue.

37 Hodge and Ely, “Chronological History,” sheet for 1943.

38 Hodge and Ely, “Beloit Corporation,” 122.

39 Paperchine , June 1942, in a binder labeled “Job Evaluation and Wage Administration”, Beloit College Archives, Morse Library, Beloit, WI.

40 Hodge and Ely, “Beloit Corporation,” 131-132.

41 Hodge and Ely, “Beloit Corporation,” 132.

42 Brecher, Strike!, 238-240.

43 Hodge & Ely, “Beloit Corporation,” 136.

44 Hodge & Ely, “Beloit Corporation,” 136.

45 Hodge & Ely, “Beloit Corporation,” 161.

46 Beloit Daily News, Wednesday June 15th, 1966, Vol 119, no. 12. Beloit Historical Society archives, Beloit, WI.

47 Beloit Daily News, June 26th 1974 issue. Beloit Historical Society archives, Beloit, WI; Beloit Daily News, July 5th 1979 issue. Beloit Historical Society archive, Beloit, WI.

48 Beloit Daily News, September 15th 1984 issue.

49 Beloit Daily News, April 20th 1981 issue.

50 Bagnato, Sacrificial Lamb, 184.

51 Beloit Daily News, Wednesday June 15th, 1966, Vol 119, no. 12. Beloit Historical Society archives, Beloit, WI.

52 Beloit Daily News, Wednesday June 15th, 1966.

53 Hodge and Ely, “Beloit Corporation,” 156.

54 Bagnato, Sacrificial Lamb, 153, 56-57.

55 Bagnato, Sacrificial Lamb, 8.

56 Bagnato, Sacrificial Lamb, 163.

57 Bagnato, Sacrificial Lamb, 163.

58 Bagnato, Sacrificial Lamb, 188.

59 Bagnato, Sacrificial Lamb, 184.

60 Bagnato, Sacrificial Lamb, 240-241.

61 Rick Barrett, Ex-workers at Beloit Corp Lose Court Case: Severance Pay Lawsuit Has Been Argued for a Decade,” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, September 26th, 2010, “” (accessed Friday December 10, 2010).

62 Bagnato, Sacrificial Lamb, 189, 236.

63 Bagnato, Sacrificial Lamb, 184.

64 See for example the reactions to Beloit Corp's closing e-mailed to Luigi Bagnato by former employees, one of who's wife blamed “Those idiots running the corp into the ground”for their current predicament, another of whom vituperated “those cowboys that ran Harnichfager and Beloit into the ground” Ibid., 184; For arguments for Harnichfager management's culpability for the bankruptcy see Bagnato, Sacrificial Lamb, 188.

65 Thomas L. Friedman, The World Is Flat (New York: Picador, 2005).

66 Bagnato, Sacrificial Lamb, 188.

67 Bagnato, Sacrificial Lamb, 184.


Bagnato, Luigi. Sacrificial Lamb: The Beloit Corporation Story. Self-published. Beloit Historical Society Archives, Beloit, WI.

Bernstein, Eduard. “Evolutionary Socialism.” In Dogmas & Dreams, edited by Nancy S. Love. Washington DC: CQ Press, 2006.

Brecher, Jeremy. Strike! Boston: South End Press, 1997.

Brissenden, Paul Frederick. The IWW: A Study of American Syndicalism. New York: Longmans, Green, & Co, 1920.

Brenner, Aaron, Day, Benjamin and Ness, Immanuel editors. The Encyclopedia of Strikes in American History. New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2009.

Burke, Edmund. “Reflections on the Revolution in France.” In Dogmas & Dreams, edited by Nancy S. Love. Washington DC: CQ Press, 2006.

Crutchfield, James A. It Happened in Washington. Guilford, CT: Morris Book Publishing, 2008.

Goldberg, David Joseph. Discontented America: the United States in the 1920s. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Green, James R. Death in the Haymarket. New York: Random House, 2006.

Hodge, Robert and Ely, Larry. Unpublished History of Beloit Iron Works. Unpublished. Beloit College Archives, Morse Library, Beloit, WI.

Lichtenstein, Nelson. State of the Union: A Century of American Labor. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Marx, Karl. “The Poverty of Philosophy.” In Karl Marx: Selected Writings, edited by David McLellan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Ozanne, Robert W. The Labor Movement In Wisconsin. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1984.

Perlman, Selig. A Theory of The Labor Movement. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1928).

Pifer, Richard L. “Worker Militancy and Wartime Industrial Conflict,” in A City At War: Milwaukee Labor During World War II (Madison: Historical Society Press, 2003)

Storey, John. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1998.

John Brown



12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by tastybrain on April 30, 2011

I wrote it for a class; I'm currently living in Beloit.

Juan Conatz

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Juan Conatz on April 30, 2011

This looks really interesting! Thanks for posting this, I'm gonna forward this to the Madison IWW list

Submitted by Steven. on May 1, 2011


I wrote it for a class; I'm currently living in Beloit.

that's great, thanks - do you want to be credited as the author? If you want to be anonymous you could use a writing pseudonym we could credit it to?

Submitted by tastybrain on May 2, 2011



I wrote it for a class; I'm currently living in Beloit.

that's great, thanks - do you want to be credited as the author? If you want to be anonymous you could use a writing pseudonym we could credit it to?

The best pseudonym I can think of is "John Brown". Is that cool?


11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by tastybrain on October 14, 2011

Hi, I know this is kind of annoying, but I was wondering if a moderator could change the author on this from "John Brown" to "Self Negation" to match my other article on Libcom? Thanks.

Juan Conatz

11 years 7 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 20, 2012


Hi, I know this is kind of annoying, but I was wondering if a moderator could change the author on this from "John Brown" to "Self Negation" to match my other article on Libcom? Thanks.

Done, although you could have done this yourself. You can edit articles, right?


10 years 5 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by NannerNannerNa… on April 11, 2013

I think I read about something like this in Italy in Robert Lumley's book States Of Emergency, some Italian businesses would attempt to build a paternalist relationship with their coworkers just like this guy. I'm don't remember what this phenomena was called , but it started with an 'L' I believe.

Man, Vermont is so damn weird. The ending of this article's more than a little depressing too also.


9 years 6 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Nate on March 21, 2014

I like this a lot. I grew up 30 or 40 miles from Beloit, still have family in that area.