Robert Forrant, a former worker at American Bosch and now a history professor at UMass-Lowell, will be at the Museum of Springfield History tomorrow evening to discuss his new book, Metal Fatigue: American Bosch and the Demise of Metalworking in the Connecticut River Valley.
The book, published earlier this year by Baywood Publishing, ties together Forrant’s experiences as a worker and union leader at the Bosch plant with the larger loss of living-wage, working-class jobs in the city and the region. Bosch’s closure, in 1986, put 1,200 people out of work—a significant number, but also significantly smaller than the 3,000 it employed at its peak. And it wasn’t alone; once part of a prosperous manufacturing corridor that ran up and down the Connecticut River, Springfield had been losing manufacturing jobs since the 1950s, as companies began moving operations to cheaper locales, Forrant wrote. Over the 1970s and ’80s alone, he wrote, 45 percent of the city’s manufacturers closed.
In Metal Fatigue and other writings, Forrant is not shy about expressing his contention that the city’s political leadership failed to respond to that steady loss of jobs—and the resultant loss of solid middle class in Springfield.
“Compounding the situation, there were nearly two decades of hapless efforts by various local and state governments to overcome employment loss and build some sort of sustainable economy,” Forrant wrote in Metal Fatigue. “Springfield … fell into serious disrepair. Corrupt officials exacerbated the problem and caused residents, already cynical about their government, to become even more disenchanted with city leaders. Its once-powerful agglomeration of skills and innovative firms depleted, Springfield staggered, nearly bankrupt, into the new century.”
Wednesday's lecture should prove an interesting conversation about what's gone wrong in Springfield's economy, and why; when the Advocate wrote about Metal Fatigue last summer, Forrant's work generated a lively on-line discussion among readers.
Forrant will lecture and sign copies of his book from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the new Museum of Springfield History at the Quadrangle. The event is free.