jeudi 2 février 2012

Punching Out: One Year In Closing An Auto Plant by Paul Clemens - Book review

Punching Out

One Year in a Closing Auto Plant

By: Paul Clemens

Published: January 17, 2012
Format: Paperback, 288 pages
ISBN-10: 0767926935
ISBN-13: 978-0767926935
Publisher: Anchor Books

"The trip to Mexico would cap a process that had begun two and a half years before, on May 15, 2006, when ThyssenKrupp Budd, citing the declining sales of the Ford SUVs for which it supplied components, announced that it would close its Detroit plant by year's end", writes award winning journalist Paul Clemens, in his thought provoking and often heart breaking book Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant. The author describes the process of how the venerable and iconic Budd Company Detroit plant was dismantled and transported to Mexico, and shares stories of people's lives, the state of the auto industry, and of the future of work in America.

Paul Clemens understands the historic significance of the dismantling of the Budd Detroit plant as part of a larger decline in America's once unchallenged supremacy in manufacturing. The Detroit based auto industry was the symbol of that manufacturing might. Paul Clemens points to the pride of Detroit, and its central position in American industry, and how that place and its proud moments are now a fading memory. The taking apart, piece by piece, of the Budd plant in Detroit represents a microcosm of the end of an era in America. The author presents the plant closing as the slow death of American industry, and the removal of heart and dignity of the American working class.

Paul Clemens (photo © Elizabeth MacDonald left) presents an account that is both personal and a painful metaphor for the unsettling story of America's decline. Bit by bit, piece by piece, the entire Budd plant disappeared from Detroit, symbolizing the death of the American Dream. For working class Americans, the auto industry offered a middle class wage scale that was the key to the door of that Dream. With the piecemeal removal of the plant, the working class hopes vanished along with the factories.

Along with the ongoing decline of the former industrial power centers of America, the author raises troubling questions about the future of the United States. With the ending of the Industrial Era, the replacements which include the service and retail economies don't provide the same level of income, benefits, or security found in the auto plants. The author talks to the displaced auto workers, who expressed pride in their jobs and their desire to work hard to build a nation. Those once proud employees are no longer on the assembly lines, but are often in unemployment lines. For Paul Clemens, the American Dream wasn't intended to end that way. As a result, the author asks some painful questions about where middle class income based jobs will come from in the future.

For me, the power of the book is how Paul Clemens presents the story of one dismantled auto plant in Detroit, Michigan as a metaphor for the de-industrialization of America and the ending of the American Dream for the working class. The intense pride of the working people of Detroit, and of the United States as a whole, have taken a severe blow in the new harsh reality of globalization. Paul Clemens offers a human story, filled with real people, who felt that reality making an impact on their lives.

In a series of pieces of a single plant, is encapsulated the piece by piece dismantling of Industrial America. The lost jobs on the auto assembly lines represent the loss of power of trade unions and working class in late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Industrialization moves across the globe, but the decay, unemployment, and shattered American Dream remain very much at home. This story continues today, as the book is also a prophetic vision of the future for other cities, towns, factories, and working people awaiting their turn for a piece by piece removal of their lives.

I highly recommend the insightful and very frightening book Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant by Paul Clemens, to anyone seeking a real world view inside the dismantling of industrial America. This book will take you to Detroit, to the new location in Mexico, and into the lives of the displaced workers whose stories of loss are still being written. How that story ends is yet to be determined.

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