The Politics of the Steel Deal

March 8, 2002

The Bush Administration decision to slap 30% tariffs on certain imported steel products this week was welcomed by America’s battered steelworkers. The news comes not a moment too soon; the steel industry has been so utterly undermined by the dumping of low-wage imported steel that a total of 31 major steel companies are in bankruptcy, with more than one hundred thousand steelworkers on the unemployment line. The Bush decision is the first relief - however small and temporary - for manufacturing workers in many years.

But the whole story of the Bush steel decision is not so encouraging. President Bush implemented the 30% tariffs fully aware that Europe and Japan will launch a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) for our restriction on steel dumping. While the WTO process moves forward, steelworkers here will experience a small let-up in the pressure on their industry from the import flood. The WTO is certain, however, to force the U.S. to remove the tariffs, but not until after the critical Congressional elections this fall. This reality should be taken into account before heaping too much praise on the President, or members of Congress who have suddenly "discovered"; the plight of U.S. manufacturing workers. President Bush and the leadership of both the Republican and Democratic parties remain committed to a business-friendly trade policy that encourages the destruction and export of good U.S. factory jobs.

This week’s steel decision is particularly ironic when contrasted with the disastrous trade policies of the Clinton-Gore administration. At several key junctures during the 1990’s the Clinton-Gore White House refused to implement protective steel tariffs, instead choosing to "study"; the situation further. This was in spite of obvious evidence that our national steel industry was being destroyed by a flood of low-wage product, and in the case of steel imports from Russia, steel made without the payment of wages to workers at all!