Lies, lies and more lies. This is the preferred currency of the republican President Donald Trump as he plies and soothes the fears of hard working Americans like the coal miners and the steel laborers. The president tells these good decent honest folks that he alone can save their jobs. This is the big lie which is the cruelest kind as it delivers a false hope.
These workers are the best in the world. They have given their hearts and souls to industries which are no longer there. Some company executives have moved their manufacturing plants to countries where the labor is much less expensive. But now, these plants have also become much more dependent on technological innovations than labor intensive. In the case of coal, power companies are preferring to use renewable energy products which are more cost effective and cleaner. When it comes to the steel and aluminum plants, technology is the main factor for the decrease in jobs.
It is my contention that trade deals need to be created with provisions to provide for real assistance to workers who are displaced because of them. Businesses have benefited but they have not shared the spoils of increased revenues, profits and productivity. And now businesses are paying the price as protectionist activists demand tariffs which end up being the worst possible solution to address workers’ perceived wrongs which do have a basis in reality, and where trade deals like TPP become impossible to pass by US legislators.
The recent imposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminum products with carve outs for Canada and Mexico by the president will create an uptick in steel worker jobs but not anywhere close to what it used to be. I firmly believe that there are better alternatives that could have been considered to help steel laborers, like for example, enacting legislation to insure that any infrastructure improvements ordered by the US government would have to be constructed with US made steel and aluminum.
I am concerned about the US president’s penchant for all things Russia. One of Russia’s major goals has been to form a wedge between the US and its NATO allies. The president’s issuance of these tariffs which could possibly spark a trade war, would be a step aligned with this Russia’s mission.
Below is a commentary by a writer who has followed the history of the US steel industry. Here’s the rest of the story…
On March 9, 2018 Dana Milbank of the Washington Post penned the following report, I covered steel 26 years ago. Trump’s solution didn’t work then and won’t now.
“The steel industry, shedding workers, shutting plants and bleeding red ink, pleaded with the federal government for tariffs on imports. As the government obliged, a young reporter on the steel beat for the Wall Street Journal cautioned that tariffs could “ultimately do the industry more harm than good” because the real threat to big steel wasn’t foreign competition but changing technology.”
“Twenty-six years later, what’s old is new again. The industry’s fortunes have waxed and waned with the economy and the price of steel. Trade protections came and went. But steel jobs continue to vanish. That’s because the job loss has almost nothing to do with imports.”
“Well,” replied Trump, “your father, Herman, is looking down. He’s very proud of you right now.”
“Oh, he’s still alive,” Scott Sauritch corrected.
“Not only did Trump kill off poor Herman Sauritch, but he’s also dooming the dreams of another generation of steelworkers. The elder Sauritch probably didn’t lose his job because of foreigners. Nor do today’s steelworkers.”
“The United States has been a net importer of steel for six decades. It imported more than 20 percent of steel through much of the 1980s, and imports of finished steel today remain in that ballpark, about 25 percent of the market. Imports in 2017, $29.1 billion, were nearly identical to 2011’s $30.5 billion.”
“What has changed is that Americans consume far less steel — little more than half as much per capita compared with in the 1970s — as improved technology means automobiles and other applications require less of it. At the same time, improved steelmaking productivity means the industry requires dramatically less labor. Steel production is down by a third since the 1970s, but employment is down by about three-quarters.”
“These changes were well underway when I arrived in Pittsburgh in 1990 for my first job after college. At other newspapers, cub reporters might be assigned the cops beat; at the Journal, the joke went, they put you on the copper beat. I was assigned nonferrous metals and worked my way up to steel by way of machine tools and rubber.”
“There was still enough steel production in the area back then that when I left the windows open in my apartment, a film of black soot coated the sill. I toured the hulking industrial remains of the Monongahela Valley, and I still have over my desk a framed panorama, circa 1910, of mighty Homestead Steel Works. I visited steelworkers’ bars and wrote about the plight of a lost generation of industrial workers.”
I also wrote about what was displacing them: “Minimills,” with their electric-arc furnaces that melted scrap steel, used only a third as many workers to produce a ton of steel as the old “integrated” producers, with their iron ore and coke blast furnaces.”
“Big steelmakers everywhere are finding that the economies of scale that helped them prevail since Andrew Carnegie’s day no longer favor them,” I wrote in February 1993, noting that some expected Nucor, the leading minimill, to replace U.S. Steel as the nation’s largest producer by 2000.”
“Nucor did become the largest U.S. steelmaker, and the entire industry has become less labor-intensive. The Associated Press reported this past week that U.S. steel producers require only 1.5 person-hours to make a ton of steel, down from more than 10 in the 1980s. Electric furnaces make about 70 percent of this country’s steel, up from less than 30 percent when I covered the industry.”
“As a result, the radical shrinking of the steel labor force has continued despite the various attempts to restrict imports: voluntary agreements in the 1980s, duties in the 1990s, more tariffs in 2002. None was effective, because imports weren’t the problem.”
“The better answer, all along, has been for government to help steelworkers (and coal miners and other industrial workers who face a similar situation) to retrain and otherwise adapt to the inevitable.”
Instead, 26 years after I first walked among the ruins of the Mon Valley, Trump continues to lie to steelworkers by telling them their jobs are coming back.