An investigation into the 2006 closing of a once-proud Detroit auto plant assesses the larger implications of American de-industrialization and the resulting hardships facing the working class.
Built in 1919, the Budd Company stamping plant on Detroit's East Side was one of the oldest active auto plants in America's foremost industrial city, a potent symbol of our nation's proudest moments and the triumphs of its working class. Eighty-seven years later, things could not have been more different: In 2006, the two-million-square-foot facility was unceremoniously closed, its machinery dismantled and sent, piece by piece, overseas.Paul Clemens, Detroit born and bred, spent the best part of a calendar year watching the Budd plant slowly disappear, along with the American dream that once flourished for our workers and their families. Punching Out is a compelling firsthand account of the complex and traumatic, yet riveting, process of its dissolutionùfrom the first appearance of the announced plant closing in the papers, through visits to the union local and the Budd plant itself in its final days, then on to the postclosing auction of much of the plant's equipment. Finally, and most vividly, Clemens describes the logistical and physical challenges of disassembling the plant's massive press lines, several stories tall and weighing thousands of tons, which were sent abroad to Brazil and Mexico, where the book concludes. The motley crew responsible for this disassembly process resembles a modern-day version of those aboard Melville's Pequod: former roofers and plumbers, an Iraq War veteran, a Bosnian immigrant, a strip-club bouncer, a repo man, itinerant riggers known as "the Arkansas Boys," andùmost poignantlyùa couple of former Budd employees. All found work as part of the team charged with dismembering this vast mausoleum of a bygone industrial age. Their stories reveal, with troubling clarity, both the resilient nature of the American working class and the reasons why they have to be resilient.An eyewitness report from the meanest, sharpest edge of America's de-industrialization, Punching Out is a eulogy for the working-class culture that once defined a prosperous America. At once tender and brutal, humorous and sad, it is also strangely upliftingùeven as it bears witness to a process that is anything but.