Book Announcement: Punching Out

Paul Clemens, Assistant to the Dean of Wayne State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has just published a book, Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant. The book focuses on the Budd Company, which at different times in its 94-year history built steel train cars and auto frames, stamped car pieces, manufactured wheels, and supplied auto parts. Begun in 1912 in Philadelphia, Budd opened shop in Detroit in 1925. In the 1970s, German company Thyssen bought Budd, and in the 1990s, Thyssen merged with Krupp. In 2006, Thyssen-Krupp decided to close the Budd Detroit plant, but for Clemens, the shuttering of Budd’s doors was just the beginning of the story.

Through observation, interviews, and research, Clemens tells the story of America’s industrial decline through a fascinating look at the mechanics, logistics, and personnel of deconstructing an immense manufacturing plant. What happens to all the equipment once a plant closes? Some of it is scrapped, some of it is auctioned off, and some of it is systematically dismantled, shipped great distances, and put together again in similar factories in foreign countries. Clemens follows all these outcomes and introduces us to the characters at each stage.

We meet the rigging crew charged with disassembling million-ton presses; the truckers who haul the equipment to its new home thousands of miles away; the Mexican, German, and Brazilian management representatives who oversee their purchases’ trips; the small business owners hoping to get a good deal at the auction; the labor union representative assisting the laid off Budd employees; and the members of the scrap crew whose job it is to torch the equipment that was not purchased. The story comes full circle as Clemens visits a plant in Aguascalientes, Mexico where a press line from the Budd Company has been reassembled and is up and running, stamping parts for Chrysler, Budd’s former neighbor on Detroit’s east side. These characters help tell the story of Detroit and America’s industrial decline, or, as Clemens puts it, “the American working class, mopping up after itself.”

The author’s wife, Elizabeth Clemens, is an audio-visual archivist here at the Reuther Library, and through her husband’s research, Elizabeth has connected with the UAW Local 306, which represented Budd Company workers. Elizabeth is working with Local 306 to bring its records to the Reuther.

The Reuther Library has many collections that provide information on plant closings, outsourcing, and deindustrialization. Please explore the subject tags at the top of this blog post to see some of these collections.

Click here to see images of the Budd plant.

Johanna Russ was the Archivist for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) from 2008 until 2013.