Union led push for steel tariffs that resulted in plant’s revival

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TALKING STEEL, 12th Congressional District candidate Brendan Kelly (D-Swansea) speaks with USW members outside the Labor Temple in Granite City. – Labor Tribune photo

BY CARL GREEN

Illinois Correspondent

Granite City – As Granite City Steel workers and friends celebrated the plant’s rebirth July 26 with a visit from President Trump, voices from the United Steel Workers and its supporters reminded us that the trade measures protecting the plant actually resulted from a long and arduous process – led by the union.

An estimated 500 people greeted Trump on his first visit to Illinois since being elected president, and he responded with an hour-long speech claiming credit for U.S. Steel’s decisions to bring the plant back to full operation.

But to make the tariffs possible, the industry first had to demonstrate that its products were vital to national security, making them eligible for protection under a little-used trade law known as 232C.

The union has been working for years to win rulings that American steel is eligible for that support, and that process finally came to fruition this year when Trump approved moving ahead with tariffs.

That, plus an upturn in prices and world demand for the steel that the Granite City plant produces, resulted in U.S. Steel announcing it would first open one, and then the other, of the plant’s two blast furnaces, reviving some 800 jobs and giving this old steel town a reason for hope.

THE TIPPING POINT

At a well-attended town hall meeting following Trump’s event, 12th Congressional District candidate and St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly (D-Swansea) supported the use of the national security law, which he described as the “tipping point” in the decision for tariffs.

“This has been building for a long time,” he told a full-room crowd at the Granite City Labor Temple, where the Steel Workers’ locals are based.  “I do believe that the issue of protecting our domestic steel and aluminum production is a national security issue.”

Kelly cited Navy ships made of steel and missiles made with aluminum as examples.

“We need to be able to maintain those, replace those and replenish those with American steel and aluminum, because if we get into a hot war with somebody somewhere in the world, we know China is not going to come to our rescue and give us the steel or aluminum that we need,” he said. “There is a legitimate case for strengthening those domestic industries.”

Kelly continued to oppose the use of tariffs against economic and military ally Canada while supporting actions against China for its well-documented trade cheating.

“When you start slapping tariffs on the Canadians, you’re hurting the workers that the Steel Workers represent in Canada, and that doesn’t make sense,” he said. “All that people are asking for, who are concerned and frustrated with trade, is for it to be a fair system, and right now it’s not.”

Kelly has been endorsed by the Steel Workers over incumbent Rep. Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro), who appeared with Trump at the event.

WORLD DEMAND GROWS

Edwin Basson, director of the World Steel Association, told reporters last week that worldwide demand continues to grow.

“We’re in a relatively positive phase compared to last year and the year before that,” he said. “We see positive growth almost throughout the countries we’re looking at, driven for the first time in many years by investment expenditure in developed and developing countries.”

U.S. Steel CEO David Burritt also joined Trump on stage July 26. In June, he cited market conditions and higher demand for steel in announcing that the second blast furnace would be revived.

“After careful consideration of market conditions and customers’ demand … the restart of the two blast furnaces at Granite City Works will allow us to serve our customers’ growing demand for high quality products melted and poured in the United States.”

USW TOOK THE LEAD

Steel Workers District 7 Director Mike Millsap lauded the union’s leadership role when he appeared here in June at a celebration of the plant’s revival.

“We’re the ones who went around and pushed the administration for the 232,” he said. “That’s what happened here. It wasn’t anybody else. It was the United Steel Workers, and people like Brendan Kelly. This is what has opened Granite City back up and started the furnaces.”

 

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