Leo W. Gerard is international president of the United Steelworkers.
The Trump administration’s steel tariffs are intended to staunch the flow of rust from closed American steel mills. The aluminum tariffs are designed to halt the rapid shuttering of American aluminum smelters.
Tens of thousands of steel and aluminum workers have lost their jobs over the past five years as subsidized metal from China glutted the world market, artificially forcing down prices.
The tariffs are not, however, a simple job-preservation measure. President Trump levied them to try to secure sufficient domestic production capacity of these vital metals for defense — for planes and tanks and for critical infrastructure.
Not every slab of steel or ingot of aluminum produced in the United States is necessary for munitions. But as the Commerce Department’s Section 232 investigations under the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 showed, it is possible that so many steel and aluminum mills would be forced to shut down that the United States could not supply its own defense needs.
The United Steelworkers union and American metals companies have in recent years paid millions to file trade cases documenting Chinese violations. The USW and U.S. firms almost always win. But then the Chinese mills switch to a different product, and the wrangling in trade court, which may take a year to resolve, begins again.