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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 3

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First of all, after the 2nd world war, politics regulated the industry. Basically, the steel-industry was to be broken up. In Germany the industry was accused of building up the armaments and in France it was accused of cooperation with the occupying forces. It was believed that if greater intervention did not take place, the danger of war was still a threat. Whereas in France, the mining of coal was nationalised, Germany was to return completely to being an agricultural country.

After four years the allies also knew that this was not the right path to take. The Marshall-plan enabled Europe to rebuild it's factories in a modern way. The production of steel was still done with feeling and by looking at the melt through blue-glass. Indeed, this slowly changed and specialist staff, sometimes now trained by the factories themselves, became increasingly important. Thus, one could, in combination with outside training, work oneself up from a labourer to an enginner. This applied to locally born people, it was much more difficult for the poorly educated immigrants (e.g., Algerians in France).

In the meantime, the Europeans had taken the reins. The French foreign minister, Schuman, launched the European steel and coal community, also known as the Montan-Union. The Germans, and above all, Chancellor Adenauer, were obviously enthusiastic from the word go, thus one of the first keystones of today's EU was laid. The system not only meant exemption from duties, but also the right to speak up and be heard. The French unions gave it the green light.

The glorious years of steel were those between 1945 and 1975. The patriarchal system returned, with the factory owner as the father figure, he was feared but at the same time, held in esteem. The work of the unions was distinctly less sanctioned than it was before the war, but still not really a force to be reckoned with because, thanks to the 'economic miracle', there was now something to be distributed. In the meantime, the employees were enjoying the swimming pools, the special shops and even breweries, among all the other social commitments. The credo was, once a Krupp, always a Krupp.

In France they were even building new steelworks on locations near to the coast. Immense investments were on the cards, on both sides of the Rhine. The family-concerns however, could no longer afford this. The era or the -dynasties of the steel-barons was coming to an end. With the appearance of stock companies, they were replaced by managers who probably, had a different conception of enterprise management. They were answerable to the board of directors and particularly to the shareholders. Be reminded at this point, of the nasty expression 'shareholder value'.

What did it look like in the factories, after the first adjustments were made to accommodate the new competition-situation? Since the beginning of the 1960's, rationalisation had been making enormous progress. The employees were divided into two groups, the higher qualified skilled workers and the 'migrant workers' as helpers. The companys were trying to operate with a high efficiency. Poor quality, as e.g., were certain metal body-parts up to the end of the 1960's, proved to be so damaging to the reputation, that from then onwards, a certain quality-level could be taken for granted.

Europe was doing all it could to keep up with the battle for efficiency, indeed, with the local wage niveau as it was, they didn't stand a chance. The patriarchal system was over, nobody protected the families in the dwellings, which were built especially for them. Previously, after being let off, the workers had to clear out of the company flats inside of eight days, now, entire factories were being closed down. It started in France, which meant not only strikes in the sites in the Lorraine but also triggered solidarity right up into the capital city.

The steelworkers strike in Duisburg/Rheinhausen in the Ruhr Area was legendary, where the workers, after a long and hard labour dispute, and with an enormous amount of support from the remaining population, managed to delay the closure of the works for six years. In the end however, it was all in vain. In the new iron-ore regoins, e.g., in India, history could repeat itself, although using India as an example is no longer up to date, because in the meantime, China is producing more steel than the rest of the world. 05/12

Steelworkers in Europe: 1 Million in 1900, 290.000 in 1998.               Top of page               Index
2001-2015 Copyright programs, texts, animations, pictures: H. Huppertz - E-Mail
Translator: Don Leslie - Email:

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