Have You No Shame Sirs?

This article appeared in the Canadian National Post on October 2, 2001.
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Opportunism and jingoism are unfortunate byproducts of war. Forinstance, there have been recent reports of gasoline priced at $5per gallon and vandalism and violence against Islamic mosques andcitizens of presumed Middle-Eastern origin. But there are lessovert manifestations of this phenomenon.

Using September 11 as a segue, Jim Robinson, an assistantdirector of the United Steelworkers, said: "This should be areminder to people that steel is a critical industry for the UnitedStates, both strategically and economically. Driving steel out ofbusiness economically has the same impact as physical bombings."The same impact?! Robinson's comment is despicable.

Paul Gipson, president of a local union representing workers atBethlehem Steel, had the following insights: "We have become solax. We have opened our borders to anyone. We have opened ourindustries to anyone in the world. What happened Tuesday is athreat to our nation. We are talking about our national defense. Weare threatened on a daily basis by imported steel, which is adirect threat to our national security. Foreign countries have beenworking to cripple this country economically." Mr. Gipson, have youno shame, sir?

Presumably, most people in the steel industry would stronglycondemn such comments - comments that lump the industry's owncustomers (who also buy imports) with mass murderers. But even thepresident of the United Steelworkers, Leo Gerard, is trying tocapitalize on the tragedy, calling for "immediate and comprehensiverelief to prevent America from being seriously compromised in itsability to satisfy the steel demand so critical for our nationalsecurity ... Wall Street has literally turned its back on theAmerican steel industry. But in light of the tragic events of thepast week, we do not believe that America can afford to turn itsback on the reality that, unless this government gives immediaterelief to our industry and its workers, it is likely that steelwill soon become a commodity, like oil, whose price is controlledby governments abroad."

This utter lack of logic and reliance on alarmist rhetoricunderlies the steel industry's long pursued campaign of distortingthe facts. The industry blames low-priced imports for its woes, yetit accounts for roughly 25 percent of those imports itself. In theSection 201 investigation currently underway, the industry'slawyers are seeking exemptions for the types of steel imported bythe industry, while concurrently seeking quotas on the rest.

The industry refuses to admit that job and profit loss may beattributable to the emergence of more efficient, low-cost, domesticmini-mills. After all, foreign companies are easier targets. Theyhave scant representation, minimal legal standing, and serve as alightening rod for the xenophobic rhetoric on which the industry'scause is based.

The industry blames worldwide overcapacity for its inability tocover costs, yet it is totally unwilling to shed the unproductivedomestic capacity that contributes to that state of affairs.Rather, it seeks to preserve excess capacity by introducingunwarranted, indiscriminate trade barriers.

And now, preying on the public's anxiety about war, the industryis playing the national security card. What they won't tell you,however, is that the U.S. military accounted for less than 0.1percent of industry deliveries in 2000. During the Vietnam War,steel deliveries to the military accounted for 1.9 percent of thetotal market. This confirms that U.S. steel capacity and productionso exceed military demand that even massive production cutbackshave no security implications. There are no legitimate shortageconcerns--only hypocrisy. The industry warns of shortages whileseeking to curtail supply.

The facts are revealing of the role unions have played in thesteel industry. Almost every U.S. mill in bankruptcy now isorganized by the United Steelworkers union. No non-union steelcompanies have failed in the United States. Do the math. Over theyears, unions made impossible wage and benefit demands on steelmanagement, which capitulated under the rationale that thegovernment would bail them out from their hollow promises. Now theycome calling again, demanding their plight be ours.

What about Americans who make the machinery to remove thousandsof tons of rubble? What about those who produce the constructionmaterials to rebuild the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? Andthose who build the jets and trains and automobiles to keepbusiness and life moving along? And Americans who manufacture theships, bombers, and tanks to ensure our national security? Is nowthe time to make it harder for them to obtain the steel they need -from here or abroad?

It's time--at long, long last--for the steel industry to abandonits delusion of grandeur and put the national interest above itsown narrow special interests.