Running Steel, Running America: Race, Economic Policy and the Decline of Liberalism

By Judith Stein | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
U.S. Foreign and
Domestic Policies in Steel:
The Creation of Conflict,
1945-1974

The steel consent decrees added the goal of fair distribution of work among whites, minorities, and women to the New Deal goal of fair distribution of rewards between capital and labor. Just as the government attempted to influence steel wages and prices, racial reformers had targeted the steel industry because they thought it was a fundamental industry. The many critics of big business inveighed against its power but assumed the corollary that corporate productiveness was durable. Liberal projects of the 1960s tried to capture the dividends of the growth to produce racial equality, end poverty, enlighten the populace, restore the environment, and promote a more egalitarian social and political order.

But the goal of winning the Cold War increased the number of applicants for the dividends. To secure and sustain strategic alliances, the government resurrected and created steel industries abroad and then encouraged imports into the United States. "Free world" access to the American market was a crucial part of the nation's arsenal. The resulting diminished market for domestic steel raised the cost of modernization and reduced the number of jobs in the U.S. steel industry. The situation was worsened by a domestic policy—monetary, fiscal, antitrust—inherited from the American past. By 1974, both the industry and the union had come to question key elements of the postwar order, although neither was fully aware how public policies had shaped their options.

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