As Labor Day approaches, our thoughts turn to steel

As the nation enters this Labor Day weekend, there are some encouraging signs for one of America's oldest and most beleaguered industries: steel.
In a recent meeting with Vindicator editors, U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, pointed out that the Bush administration has already done far more for the steel industry than the Clinton administration did over eight years. Some evidence of that is apparent in a recent U.S. International Trade Commission ruling.
The ruling: The commission ruled unanimously that certain steel imports from Argentina and South Africa were being dumped on the U.S. market at prices that were below cost, hurting U.S. steel companies. The decision means that the Commerce Department is free to institute tariffs on hot-rolled steel from those nations.
We have long called for the government to be more aggressive in dealing with countries that pursue unfair trade policies. When one nation dumps steel on another nation's market, it manages to export not only its product, but its potential unemployment problem. In this case, South African and Argentine workers got to keep their jobs, while American plants were being closed, American companies were filing for bankruptcy and American steel workers were being laid off.
On another front, the Commerce Department reported this week that steel imports declined slightly in July, at 2.2 million tons. That compares to 2.3 million the month before and 3.2 million in July 2000. Overall, imports are 30 percent lower for the first seven months of this year, compared to last.
Those numbers can be viewed with a jaundiced eye, since part of that decline is attributable to stricter enforcement, but much of it simply reflects a weakening economy.
Acknowledgement: Finally, there was President Bush's visit to Pittsburgh early this week during which he said that the problems facing the American steel industry endanger more than jobs. They carry national security implications. The Clinton administration never seemed to get the fact that a superpower has to have a steel mill or two if it wants to remain a super power.
These developments, while encouraging, are of little consolation at this point to companies that have been crippled and workers who have lost their jobs. Locally, the CSC plant in Warren is still on the auction block and LTV in Cleveland still faces the daunting task of financial reorganization.
But at least it's nice to know that the steel industry is on the radar screen now in Washington, D.C. It's a start.

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