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An Alliance Forged in Patriotism

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Steelworkers and CEOs, Democrats and Republicans are rallying together this month across the country to alert their fellow Americans to a threat to independence.

These groups, often at each other’s throats, have allied to confront a surge in dumped foreign steel, an illegal practice that jeopardizes the viability of American mills. Steelworkers and steel company CEOs, red and blue politicians celebrate the energy independence achieved through shale gas drilling but condemn the dependence on foreign steel that failure to enforce trade laws will cause.

The alliance is asking the Commerce Department to sanction foreign steel producers who violate international trade law by dumping steel in the American market at prices below the cost to produce it. In the past year and a half, U.S. steelmakers and my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), have filed 40 trade cases seeking penalties against foreign producers for dumping.

That’s so many that now steel is the Commerce Department’s primary focus, according to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, who said during an event held at a mill near Pittsburgh last week, “Roughly 75 percent of the department’s ongoing trade investigations involve steel products.”

As dumped foreign steel grabs increasing portions of the U.S. market, it threatens the American steel industry. U. S. Steel invested $100 million in its Lorain Tubular Operations in Ohio since 2010, but it was forced to lay off 73 workers there earlier this year. Plant Manager John Wilkinson said dumped steel pipe, sold at 30 percent below market value, is to blame. 

Suddenly, the price of imported steel plummeted, dropping 23.1 percent between 2011 and early 2014, according to a report issued last week by the non-partisan think tank Economic Policy Institute (EPI). It’s titled: “ Surging Steel Imports Put Up to Half a Million U.S. Jobs at Risk.

For the American steel industry, that contributed to losses. It posted net losses in four of the past five years, rising from $388 million in 2012 to $1.2 billion in 2013, EPI reported. Since Jan. 1 this year, nearly 1,000 steelworkers have lost their jobs because of surging imports.

The death of the American steel industry is fine with the likes of the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and the Cato Institute. They contend cheap prices are paramount. They say Americans should thank foreign states that violate international trade laws by subsidizing their steel industries because it means Americans pay a few dollars less for cars and refrigerators.  They don’t care if America would have to depend on China for the steel to make U.S. tanks and missiles. 

This is the view of rabid capitalists married to money and devoid of loyalty.  Made in America means nothing to them.

Not even conservative Republicans agree with them. Fourteen Senate Republicans last week joined 42 Democrats and an Independent in signing a letter to Commerce Secretary Pritzker about steel dumping. The Senators expressed concern that the Commerce Department failed to include South Korea in its preliminary ruling in February that eight countries – India, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam ­– dumped steel pipes used in gas drilling.

A Republican and a Democrat coordinated the letter. They are Ohio’s senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman. Supporting American manufacturing against illegal foreign competition is not a partisan issue. It’s an issue of patriotism.

In a conference call organized by the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) to announce the EPI report, Sen. Brown said that claiming dumped foreign steel is good because it’s cheap is contending that law breaking is acceptable when it lowers prices:  “It is a little bit like arguing that it is okay to buy stolen TVs because they are cheaper. They (foreign steel producers) are breaking international law.”