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          A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

  The history of steel 2









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The turbulent development of the railways with their rolling stock, the rails and the bridges, drove the development onwards. While nowadays, it's more the managers in the company who have the say, in the last century it was the owners or the families. The factory was the most important thing in life, everything else was subordinate. In the factory itself, it was completely different story, here the hierarchy was very rigid, right down the the most lowly labourer, whereby, for a long time, it was normal that among them were also women and children, from 10 years old and upwards. Above all of them was the foreman who had the status of an employer.

Until about 1950/60, the jobs in the steelworks were unspeakably hard and dangerous. A great deal was done by hand. Apart from the never-ending shovel-work, the smelters, e.g., stood next to the troughs, where they had to ensure a continuous flow of molten metal, always making sure that their trousers or the wooden shoes that they wore, didn't catch fire. The racking, i.e. the opening of the kiln was a job that carried a great deal of responsibility. This is why the smelter was a step above the labourers.

The steel industry in particular, has been accused of having helped to carry out several wars. From 1850 to 1950, Germany was involved in five wars, and not only in the last one, were they themselves to blame. The continuous conflict with France was a result, which caused both sides to upgrade their armaments. Certainly, the steel industry made a fortune, this however, is valid for other branches as well. Alfred Krupp, with his cannons, probably the most well known manufacturer, was put into jail for five years for supporting the Nazi regime.

Indeed, one must consider the fact that even in peacetime, the respective government is an important client and under the duress of the creating employment for the plant, protest is hardly conceivable. Wilhelm von Opel summed it all up, when he asked the question of whether he should have received Hitler with the words: "So, you scoundrels are also back again." The question of forced labour and the working conditions, is a different subject all together. In this case, any number of German industrial branches can be accused of negligence and indeed, were condemnable.

The period during the 2nd world war was in many ways, a difficult time. The industrialists said that they were simply carrying out the instructions given by a regular government, which, very soon, turned out to be a dictatorship. The exporting of steel was limited because of armament needs. The best workers were soldiers and with a bit of luck, there were sufficient immigrant labourers, of course, first of all they had to be trained.

One never needed to worry about sales. However, even though one was also no longer the boss in one's own company, one would be held responsible after the war. In the occupied areas, the factory owners were to produce for the former enemy. Should he now fear sabotage?, or perhaps find it a good thing? If it happened too often, then he and the rest of the managers would be deported and the military would then take over the works.

The question of war-avoidance, of course, hit back at the workers themselves. How did they feel about the production of war materials? After all, they knew very well what they were producing. Indeed, at the end of the 19th century a great many strikes and discussions had taken place because of the intolerable working conditions. Why didn't the workers also resist against helping in the production of armaments? Probably because most of them had no idea of what politics was all about and because they had enough problems of their own.

The subject of strikes was taboo as far as the patriarchy was concerned. For decades it simply did not happen. The steel-barons found it it very difficult to get used to. The list of factory owners who maintained that they cared for their workers is long. Indeed, if the workers went on strike against them, it was considered to be a personal affront. On the whole, they reacted to union activity with selective dismissals and police- or military force. 05/12



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Translator: Don Leslie - Email: lesdon@t-online.de

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