WHAT WE THINK
March 8, 2002 | Page 3
GEORGE W. Bush was set to rule on whether to impose tariffs on imported steel as Socialist Worker went to press.
The steel industry is in an enormous crisis. More than two dozen American steel companies have been forced into bankruptcy in the last few years. Steel bosses like U.S. Steel CEO Thomas Usher say the solution is for Bush to impose a 40 percent tariff on foreign steel--and agree to a $12 billion government bailout to cover pensions and medical insurance for the industry's 600,000 retirees.
The United Steel Workers of America is backing the industry's plan. In fact, the union even invited Usher to lead the pledge of allegiance to the flag at a 25,000-strong rally of steelworkers near the White House last week.
But this alliance with the steel bosses is misguided. Even if Bush agrees to impose tariffs, he won't bail out retirees. And mergers would make tens of thousands more layoffs inevitable.
In fact, a series of protectionist measures since the early 1980s haven't stopped the number of steel jobs from being cut in half in the past two decades. Yet the steel bosses enjoyed fat profits in the 1990s--by forcing a smaller workforce to work harder than ever.
Now, the world recession and a glut of steelmaking capacity have made the U.S. steel industry vulnerable to lower-priced imports.
As long as steel production is organized for profit, the employers will continue to hammer the union and close plants--no matter how many schools are crumbling or how little affordable housing is being built.
The real solution to the crisis is to take steel away from the profiteers and put it under national, public control. Rather than organize production to maximize profits, a nationalized steel industry could make steel to rebuild inner cities devastated by decades of neglect and meet other urgent needs.
Of course, such demands will be dismissed as "unrealistic" by bosses and union officials alike. But the real fantasy is to expect Bush and Corporate America to defend the interests of steelworkers or working people anywhere--especially in the Enron era.
It's time to step up the fight for steel jobs--not by allying with employers, but by confronting them.