By CARL GREEN
Granite City – It was 1878 when Granite City first started making steel for the nation and the world, and ever since, the city’s fortunes have risen and fallen along with the steel industry.
It’s no different now, and the industry again is threatened. The people of Granite City united to fill Civic Park in a fight for their livelihoods at a “Save Our Steel Jobs” rally May 16.
The problem now is dumping. Foreign steelmakers, mostly those subsidized by their governments, are selling steel products at prices below the real cost of manufacturing. That’s hurting U.S. Steel and other companies that must compete without government backing.
Last week’s rally was to call on the U.S. Department of Commerce to enforce trade rules that are supposed to prevent such dumping.
“It’s all about jobs and the economy,” said Granite City School Superintendent Jim Greenwald, one of several speakers at the rally. “Our region, our city and school system, are only as strong as the jobs around us. We need the awareness and support of our government.”
Several hundred people, many of them representing other unions and community groups, filled the large Civic Park at 20th Street and Delmar Avenue for the rally.
Last year, American steel producers and workers filed a petition for relief from below-cost imports of steel pipe, much of it from South Korea. Commerce’s preliminary decision was to do nothing, and a final decision is to come July 8.
The rally was a joint project of the United Steelworkers, U.S. Steel and the Alliance for American Manufacturing, and included appearances from union and company officials, and Democratic and Republican members of Congress.
Dave Dowling, director for the United Steelworkers Sub-District 2, said Steelworkers have been making steel in Granite City for 135 years.
“We’ve created value, we’ve created wealth,” he said. “These jobs at Granite City Steel support thousands of other jobs.”
All they are asking for, he said, is for the Department of Commerce to enforce a fair market.
“On a level playing field, the Granite City Steel facility is competitive on the world market,” Dowling said. “The jobs at this plant are worth fighting for, and we will keep up the fight.”
Other speakers included Mayor Ed Hagnauer; Marty McKay, general manager and partner at Koetting Ford; Scott Paul from the Alliance for American Manufacturing; U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville); and Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO.
Democratic Congressional nominee Ann Callis, (D-Granite City) also was in attendance.
U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart (D-Belleville) led the crowd through a rousing chant in support of both American steel and American workers.
“Today, foreign countries are dumping inferior steel below the cost of producing it in our country,” he said. “Today we need to stand up for American steel. Today, we need to stand up for American workers.
“When we fought and won World War II, what did we build those ships, tanks and guns from?” he asked. The crowd roared back, “American steel!”
“Who built them?” Enyart asked. The crowd replied, “American workers!”
American goods and products can compete anywhere in the world, Enyart said, when it’s based on a fair deal.
U.S. Steel Granite City Works General Manager Rick Veitch recalled how much the community was damaged when the plant had to shut down for parts of 2008 and 2009 because demand had collapsed.
“We’ve seen the damage done – we cannot allow that to happen again,” he told the crowd. “We cannot compete in an unfair market. We need our trade laws enforced.”
SMART PUBLIC POLICIES
The Alliance for American Manufacturing is a non-profit group formed in 2007 by the United Steelworkers and some manufacturers to “create new private sector jobs through smart public policies.”
The Alliance is sponsoring similar rallies at other steel-making communities.