Steel crisis

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The steel crisis was a structural crisis in the steel industry in the late 1960s, late 1970s, early 1980s and 1990s in Germany , Austria , France , Belgium , Luxembourg , Great Britain , Italy , Sweden and the USA .

In view of the ruinous competition and worldwide overcapacities in the mid-1960s, 31 steel industry companies in the Federal Republic of Germany formed a sales cartel that existed from 1967 to 1971 with the approval of the coal and steel union . The sales organizations and companies of the participating steel groups were brought together in several regional steel offices . Orders were distributed to the affiliated companies according to a quota system .

In the record year 1974, 53 million tons of crude steel were produced in the Federal Republic of Germany and the highest profits in the industry for decades; the falling demand triggered a crisis in the late 1970s.


Steel production and GDP.
In most countries, steel production declines after a certain level of GDP is reached, which suggests that growth continues according to other principles.

In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s that had automobile production in many industrialized countries, the railway construction and mining replaced as the major consumer of iron and steel.
After the end of the Second World War , there had been a long-lasting economic boom ( economic miracle ), a construction boom and a baby boom in many industrialized countries ; this phase ended around 1970. During the first oil price crisis in 1973/74, the price of crude oil quadrupled; During the 1979 oil price crisis, the oil price rose by over 100%. The trigger was the Iranian revolution ; thereafter, Iran temporarily cut its exports. In many countries there was inflation and stagnation or recession (see also stagflation , Eurosclerosis ). A shipbuilding crisis began in the early 1980s ; many shipyards have had to lay off or close staff. The increased energy costs caused problems for the steel industry. The decreasing demand and the further development of production methods led to enormous overproduction and sometimes ruinous price wars . The use of substitute materials, such as ceramic materials or plastics , also contributed to the steel crisis.

International competition

This was intensified by increasing international competition, especially in the field of bulk steel , and in part by highly subsidized competitors within the EC and from Japan : While Japan still played no role on the international steel market before and after the Second World War (1913: 0 , 3% of world crude steel production, 1950: 2.5%, 1973: 23%), this changed massively in the 1970s. Unlike the USA , Japan had state-of-the-art iron and steel works right on the sea and exported cheap, bulk steels to the USA and the Third World . But developing countries like Brazil , Algeria , Indonesia and India also began to participate in the world steel market.

In 1950 the USA and the then EC countries accounted for 70.1% of crude steel production, while in 1964 48.5% was distributed among the USA and 10.7% between the EC countries and in 1974 only 40.3% or 3.8%. Technical developments such as the introduction of the Linz-Donawitz process or the continuous casting process lowered the costs of steel production against the background of international competition, but required high investments , which contributed to a subsidy race.


In the early 1980s, competition within the EC was slowed down by a volume cartel ( Eurofer ) based on the coal and steel union agreements. The steel manufacturers had to deposit the price lists for their products with the European Commission and were only allowed to enter the respective national markets of the neighboring countries ( interpenetration ) at the prices of their local competitors. In addition, in order to combat the crisis, the Commission asked for plans to reduce the overcapacity for which it made aid. The concepts consisted primarily in an increasing national concentration of companies (e.g. Cockerill-Sambre , Usinor-Sacilor , Krupp - Hoesch , Italsider , British Steel ), but also in the nationally subsidized competition on export markets outside the EC and the modernization of the Smelting works and steelworks are becoming ever larger units, which cannot or lose their price advantage of economies of scale if they are underutilized .


In Germany, the Ruhr area and Saarland , where several large ironworks (the Völklinger Hütte , the Neunkircher Hütte , the Burbacher Hütte and the Dillinger Hütte ) were operating, were hardest hit by the effects of this structural crisis . The town of Peine , which at that time was still very dependent on steel, was also badly affected. Smelting works and steel works that suffered from competitive disadvantages (“dry locations”, i.e. no connection to the waterway network ), such as the Maxhütte in Bavaria or the Neunkircher Hütte in Saarland, were closed in the 1980s. Pig iron production at the Völklinger Hütte was also terminated, although it had a connection to the waterway network. However, steel production was maintained at the Völklingen location. The pig iron required for this has since been produced in the blast furnaces of ROGESA Roheisengesellschaft Saar , a company jointly supported by the two remaining Saarland steel producers Saarstahl and Dillinger Hütte, in Dillingen / Saar . A significant part of the Lorraine steel industry also fell victim to the steel crisis, as the proximity to the ore mines that have now been closed had become meaningless.

In the course of the concentration process in Germany, most of the blast furnaces in the Ruhr area were closed. The main production was relocated to Duisburg . The shift to the west from steel locations in the Ruhr area to the Rheinschiene was initially preceded by the closure of the Krupp iron and steel works in Rheinhausen in the late 1980s , the first significant activity of the later organizer of the concentration on the part of Krupp, Gerhard Cromme .

The Westfalenhütte and the Phönix-Hütte by Hoesch in Dortmund and the Henrichshütte by Thyssen in Hattingen were closed and the systems were sold to the People's Republic of China . The same happened with the Kaiserstuhl coking plant , at that time the most modern coking plant in Europe, which after only a few years of operation had no more sales due to the relocation of steel production by the ThyssenKrupp group to the Rheinschiene. A new, modern blast furnace was built in Duisburg- Beeckerwerth in 1993 and took over the work of its three old predecessors (12,200 tons of pig iron per day). Even before its merger with Krupp-Hoesch, Thyssen concentrated on the production of flat steel and sold its profile steel business . This concentration process cost a five-digit number of jobs, especially in the Ruhr area.

In addition, there were a large number of indirectly affected companies in the supplier industry that were dragged into the crisis, e. B. in mechanical engineering or with service providers such as bulk cargo shipping (e.g. the shipping company Frigga ).


  • Hermann Bömer, Hans-Werner Franz & Hans-Otto Wolff: Developments in the steel industry - solution concepts for the steel crisis. Published by the cooperation center for science and work. QuaMedia-Verlag, Dortmund 1988
  • Hans Kutscher : Overcoming the steel crisis from a European perspective. Lecture to the Europa-Institut of Saarland University, Saarbrücken, December 7, 1984. Europa-Institut, Saarbrücken 1985

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