auto industry

A Scrap Economy

“HOW CAN A plant stop?” wonders Paul Clemens, a Motor City native who made his nonfiction name with the 2005 memoir Made in Detroit. “How can all its stuff, weighing uncountable tons, be cut up and trucked away? How can all the equipment that once made such a racket be quieted so completely? How can 2 million square feet that once made so much now make nothing?”

Those questions sent Clemens inside Detroit’s Budd stamping plant, which at the time of its closing employed about 350 people making parts for Ford SUVs: “roofs, doors, fenders, tailgates, liftgates, and body side panels.” Budd, which sat “sandwiched” between two Chrysler plants, was one of Detroit’s oldest plants, and in May 2006, when its closing was announced, Budd briefly headlined The New York Times. But within a single news cycle, the story had faded even from Detroit papers, which turned their attention to the FBI digging for Jimmy Hoffa’s bones at a horse farm in Milford Township, Michigan. The speed with which Budd’s shuttering vanished from the papers is misleading. The closing of a plant outlasts the news cycle. The closing of a plant can take more than a year.

One might tell this story by singling out half a dozen of the men and women who worked at Budd and following them as they adjust to the plant’s closing—as they apply for new jobs and unemployment benefits; as some of them find those new jobs and some don’t; as one man, say, loses his house and has to move in with his grown kids; as one woman, say, enrolls at the local community college to (in the odious idiom of education salespeople) update her skills.

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