Steel Industry : Europe is fed up

Article published on Nov. 25, 2016
Article published on Nov. 25, 2016

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Under the watch of IndustriAll, some 10 000 steel industry workers from all over Europe came on mass on Wednesday to express their anger towards institutions who they feel have deserted them. Cafébabel Brussels was with them at this extraordinary protest. We set the scene.  

Cafébabel Brussels, as part of its commitment to youth employment, will organise an event in mid-January on industrialisation and deindustrialisation in Belgium and in Brussels. We therefore decided to stand with the protesters. Certainly patience was needed on Wednesday, 9th of November at the Parc du Cinquanteraire, in braving the rain and icy cold, to see those that came from all over Europe to express their anger. “Pas d'Europe sans acier” (No Europe without steel) was the slogan the protesters had on their lips. The aim of the steelworkers was clear: expressing their annoyance to the EU institutions of their ineptitude. The unions wanted clear and precise measures, ensuring the preservation of jobs but mainly to counter the dumping of Chinese steel on the European market.

Ok, but what is "dumping"?

"Dumping", very broadly, is the selling of a foreign product cheaper than the same product is made locally. In steelmaking, "dumping" is the fact that Chinese steel is sold at a lesser cost than European steel in its territory. The result: a drop in employment, and in time this maneuver threatens the whole future of steelmaking in Europe.

It’s on the eve of a long awaited decision from the Commission on the acknowledgment of a free market in China that the steelworkers have decided to protest. Indeed, if the decision is made in favour of acknowledgment, the trade barriers for products imported from China will diminish, and thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of jobs will be threatened.

"Let's keep going"

Miguel Ángel Villalobos works for an Acerinox factory which employs 2400 workers, on which 4500 families are dependent (from activities surrounding the factory *editor’s note*). Also a representative of the Spanish USO union, for him; “seeing as China doesn’t apply corrective, environmental or social measures and hasn’t signed any international ILO treaty, the EU should not acknowledge this country as a free market. The role of the union should be to apply dissuasive customs duties or to let the European industry receive aid”. Of note is the fact that Spain also employs 5000 people in the sector.

Frenchman Lionel Dubus, representing the C.F.E – C.G.C Arcelor-Mittal, agrees with us on the environmental and ethical aspect: “We have a relationship of trust when a manufacturer is near to us. What’s more, we benefit because we reduce the CO2 emissions used in transit. Europe, in this regard, is a pioneer in terms of reducing pollution; we are at optimal thermal-dynamicity. Chinese steel uses twice as much CO2 as our steel; what is the logic in importing? You get the impression that the European commissioners are disconnected from reality."

Inaction by the Commission 

The Commission has for a long time shown itself to be reticent about the taxation of Chinese products such as steel, with penalties deemed insufficient by all unions. For them, the EU should draw inspiration from the United States, who tax Chinese products up to 300%, in order to put it in a situation of fair competition with the production of local industries. Certainly, critics may denounce these protectionist measures, but between protectionism and common sense, there is only one path, one path that it is time to take.