March 25, 2018—The Congressional Steel Caucus, a bipartisan body headed by Republicans Rick Crawford (Ark) and Mike Bost (Ill), held an extensive briefing March 21, bringing together labor and industry representatives to discuss President Trump’s announced tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. In addition to Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, the meeting was attended by John Brett, the president and CEO of ArcelorMittal USA; Todd Young, managing director of government relations for U.S. Steel; John Ferriola, president and CEO of Nucor Corp.; Roger Newport, CEO of AK Steel; Mark Millett, the president and founder of Steel Dynamics, Inc.; and Tony Frabotta, vice president of finance at Zekelman Industries and vice chairman of the Committee on Pipe and Tube Imports.
The Caucus holds a “State of Steel” hearing every year, but this meeting was particularly intense. Despite sharp criticism coming from many against the tariff announcement, both the executives and Gerard insisted argued that the action would lead to the reopening of plants and rehiring of workers, and not inflict severe damage on other sectors of the economy. Currently, the U.S. imports one-third of the steel it uses, not only due to lower prices, but also due to lack of production of certain kinds of steel.
Gerard’s testimony indicates optimism that new hiring had begun (3000 jobs), and that the increased costs would not harm the economy. After all, he said, the USWA represents workers in industries that use steel, as well as those who make it. He also noted the huge decline in aluminum production (from 23 to 5 operating smelters since 2000). He framed his arguments in terms of the need to defend the welfare of manufacturing and service workers, as well as national defense (the legal basis for the Trump action).
Gerard, like many others in the industry and the Administration, however, continue to motivate their actions by attacking China, and insisting that there is a global overproduction of steel. This reflects, at best, a short-sighted approach to the crisis of manufacturing, as it ignores the fact that the apparent over-capacity is the result of Wall Street’s control over the flow of credit. This has resulted in money being directed to speculation and low-wage ventures overseas, while the urgent Great Projects of modern technological infrastructure, such as high-speed rail, are ignored or aborted.
If one looks at the needs of the nation—not to mention, humanity as a whole—there is a huge demand for steel, to build the power infrastructure, rail infrastructure, water infrastructure, and space exploration infrastructure that will raise the living standards of all to a human level. The best mission for the Steel Caucus, led by the USWA, would be to take the lead in demanding Glass-Steagall banking legislation to control Wall Street, and a new infrastructure bank to issue the needed credit for progress reaching into generations to come.