The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Who Stole Steel Industry Jobs?

Mar 19, 2018

With his typical grandstanding, Trump announced big tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. (Almost immediately, he negated the effect of the tariffs by excluding from them the countries that sell the most steel and aluminum to U.S. industries, like Canada. And that is typical of Trump also.)

But what counts is not Trump’s order itself, but how he justified it. Trumps says it will bring the “dying steel industry back to life,” resurrect rusting factories, and provide millions of jobs.

As the young people say, “call BS.” Tariffs won’t bring jobs back.

The steel industry is not “dying” from imports. Part of its production has been replaced by other industries, including plastics and preformed concrete, as technology develops.

But, most important, the steel industry continues to produce at a very high level in this country – but the same developing technology allows steel to be produced by many times fewer workers. U.S. steel producers require only 1.5 person-hours of work to make a ton of steel today, compared to more than 10 hours in the 1980s.

It’s not imports that steal jobs – it’s the vast increase in what labor can produce; it’s the changes introduced into the production of goods and services by technology.

Technology is not an enemy. These vast changes in steel– which happen to a greater or lesser degree in every industry – could allow all of us to work many fewer hours, and yet have enough income to buy all the products that our labor produces. Why not? All of us are making more things with our labor time. So, divided up among all of us, that means we could all have more.

With what technology has wrought, all of us could be working 10 or even 20 fewer hours a week. We could all have more paid vacation time. We could all have more paid holidays. We could all retire earlier. And the most noxious forms of shift time could be eliminated.

That’s what technology could do – if it weren’t controlled, as it is today, by capitalism. To make sure that the benefits of new technology come to those who work – that has to be the goal that workers fight for. In other words, we have to take control of that technology away from the capitalists who use it today to pile up senseless levels of profit. We have to impose our needs, before their profits.