This is Your Hometown: Collective Memory, Industrial Flight, and the Fate of Freehold, New Jersey

Jonathan D. Cohen

Abstract


Established in 2012, the New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance (NJSAA) Graduate Student Award recognizes excellence in graduate writing about New Jersey history. It is presented for a paper written by a graduate student that best represents significant research and writing about any aspect of New Jersey history. The 2015 award went to Mr. Cohen.

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Freehold, New Jersey faced two major moments of deindustrialization in the post-World War II period. In the late 1950s, the rug mill that sat at the center of the town's economic and cultural life began to close down. In 1986, a 3M audio-visual tape plant that had helped the town avoid economic ruin shut down as well. This paper illustrates the continuities between these closings, challenging the dogma in labor history that plant closings occur because of management's desire to avoid an entitled and demanding workforce. Though workers at both plants were unionized, neither the rug mill nor the 3M workers made major demands on their employers in the postwar period. This paper analyzes the conditions that prompted shutdowns in Freehold, illustrating the role of broader market forces as well as internal company dynamics in driving capital flight. Furthermore, a close look at the 3M closing reveals the importance of culture in workers' responses to deindustrialization. Following 3M's announcement of its plans to shut down the Freehold plant, workers began a national media campaign to save their jobs. At the heart of this campaign was the memory of the rug mill that had closed 25 years earlier, as represented by their campaign anthem, Bruce Springsteen's 1984 song "My Hometown." This paper demonstrates the role of memory and music in shaping workers' experience with deindustrialization as well as the struggles of unions to codify the relationship between capital and community in the twentieth century.


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14713/njs.v2i1.27

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