Hundreds rally in 100-degree heat
By CARL GREEN
Granite City, IL – An overdue decision about whether excess capacity in the steel industry endangers national defense may hold the key to re-opening the U.S. Steel plant in Granite City to full capacity, United Steelworkers leaders said at a recent “Fire It Up” rally.
Close to 400 steel workers and supporters turned out on one of the hottest days of the year at the Labor Temple to demand that the plant be returned to steel manufacturing. At times, the talk was just as heated as the day.
Dan Simmons, president of USW Local 1899 – the plant’s largest local – said many people are confused because the plant has been running this year, but only at a very limited capacity.
“We currently have about 630 workers working today,” he said. “When U.S. Steel idled our facility the week of Christmas in 2015, we had around 1,800 employees working.
“In January of this year we started up a limited operation of our hot strip mill. This brought back approximately 235 employees. With the hot strip startup, most people are thinking we are up and running, but that is far from true. We’re not there yet, and we have a long way to go.
“We have a great facility here,” Simmons added. “We can make some of the best quality steel in the country.”
Simmons and other speakers said a key to the future will be decisions by the Commerce Department and President Trump on whether the current state of the steel industry is a risk to national security under the Section 232 law. Commerce was supposed to give its conclusions for Trump to consider in June but had not done so as of Thursday, when the rally was held.
Even though the Steelworkers won three major trade cases last year alleging illegal subsidies and dumping by foreign steel makers, imports and the subsidized over-capacity continue to depress the world market for steel. The 1962 federal law allows the president to impose quotas, tariffs and duties to protect national security.
“What’s happening to the steel industry and the aluminum industry in the United State is impacting our ability to protect our country,” said Mike Millsap, USW District 7 director for Illinois and Indiana. “If we don’t have the capacity to make steel and aluminum in our country, how the hell will we be able to defend our country?”
He said that while lobbyists, economists and Republicans all have voiced concerns about the effect on the economy a Section 232 ruling would have, they are missing the point.
“This is not about the economy,” he said. “This is not about angering Mexico. This is about defending our country. This is about national security. Don’t tell me you don’t give a damn about that.
“We want to help President Trump and his administration do what he promised,” Millsap added. “That is to redo NAFTA and the other bad trade deals. He promised there would not be one more plant leaving our country to go to another country. That’s not true, it’s happening every single day.
“It’s time to do what he promised he was going to do. He has an opportunity right now, today, to show the American people and our steel manufacturers that he is going to do what he promised. He needs to rule on Section 232 now and he needs to rule in our favor.”
READY TO GO
Dave Dowling, USW Subdistrict 2 director, reminded the workers that it wasn’t their fault that the plant has been mostly closed.
“We have a blast furnace that is newly refined and ready to fire up,” he said. “We have a modern steel- making facility, including a newly installed casting machine that’s ready to be fired up.
“Our facilities are efficient, and our labor productivity meets world standards, but we labor under a cloud of unfair and illegal trade practices and policies. We are undercut by illegally subsidized steel that is dumped into our steel market.”
Trump’s last word on the Section 232 issue was a tweet saying he looked forward to seeing the Commerce Department report and promising to “take major action if necessary.” He signed a memorandum in April directing Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to make the report.
A large tent and electric fans helped the crowd tolerate the heat, and their responses were loud and enthusiastic. U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth could not attend but provided pre-recorded message. State representatives Jay Hoffman and Katie Stuart spoke briefly, and gubernatorial candidate Bob Daiber was on hand, as well.
Hoffman quoted an Elvis Presley song in his remarks about federal government inaction. “I want Washington to keep its promise,” he said. “I want them to stop the illegal dumping of steel. I want them to stand up for you, and, to quote Elvis, I want ‘a little less conversation and a little more action’ in Washington D.C. on your behalf.”
Dowling said that despite last summer’s successes in the trade cases, imports still make up 30 percent of U.S. consumption, while utilization of U.S. steel-making capacity is only about 70 percent.
“These trade cases alone are evidence and proof of the illegal actions of companies from other countries as they dump illegally subsidized steel into our market,” he said. “Our current trade laws are ineffective to ensure fair trade. They do not provide a level playing field. Countries are figuring out how to get around the quotas.”
In particular, imports from Vietnam are up by 300 percent, he said.
“The current administration in Washington campaigned on a promise to revitalize American manufacturing and to revitalize the steel industry, specifically,” Dowling added. “We expect this administration to fulfill its campaign promises. We expect action, not rhetoric.”
To U.S. Steel, shutting down the plant is just a matter of bookkeeping, he added.
“It means something different to us. To us it means our jobs, our livelihood, the future of our families and of this community. U.S. Steel may own the land and the equipment and the buildings, but these are our jobs, and we will fight for these jobs, and we will fight for the future of this community.
“We are all in this together, and we will fight together.”
Millsap delivered a litany of industries that have been undercut by foreign government subsidies and market manipulation.
“One industry after another is impacted – mainly by China, but other countries too,” he said. “Paper, steel, glass, automotive parts, phones, clothes, food, school supplies, the list goes on and on. It’s past time that our government wakes up and starts protecting our jobs.
“We are the only country in the world that will open up its borders and its arms and say, ‘Bring your products and your goods to the United States. Take our good-paying jobs, put the American people on layoff, destroy our economy and protect yours.’
“I tell you, enough is enough. We need to close our arms, and our politicians that represent us in Washington D.C. need to be accountable for what they do to us. Make no mistake, it is our government that makes these trade laws, it’s our government that is supposed to enforce those trade laws, and they need to do so.”