Aluminum Monopolies

Aluminum Monopolies


monopolies which control more than 60 percent of the capitalist world’s output of primary aluminum. This output, which amounted to 5,572,000 tons in 1966, is controlled by four monopolies, three American and one Canadian, the latter being closely linked to American capital (see Tables 1 and 2).

In the USA the “big three” aluminum monopolies account for about 90 percent of the country’s output of primary aluminum. In the following countries two companies dominate aluminum smelting: Canada (Alcan and Canadian British Aluminium), France (Pechiney SA and Ugine), and West Germany (VAW and Rheinfelden). In Switzerland, Sweden, and Austria, one company controls the country’s total aluminum output.

The aluminum monopolies also monopolize the extraction of the raw material. From the beginnings of the aluminum industry, they divided among themselves the prospecting for the bauxite deposits, more than half of which are in economically backward countries (Jamaica, Surinam, and Guyana); they export from these countries practically all the bauxites extracted, either in raw state (US monopolies) or in the form of alumina (Canadian monopolies). Since the 1950’s, with the rise of the national liberation movement, the aluminum monopolies began jointly exploiting new deposits, most of which are in Africa or Australia. They did this to protect their capital from nationalization and also because of the high capital intensity of bauxite extraction. They set up consortiums, or joint companies, for the prospecting and mining of deposits and for the production of alumina in Guinea, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Australia, and Greece. The governments of these countries sometimes join with the aluminum monopolies in investing capital in the consortiums. In particular, two consortiums composed of Alcan, Alcoa, Harvey Aluminum (USA), Pechiney, Ugine, VAW, and the Italian firm Mon-tecatini Edison operate in Guinea, which has the largest bauxite reserves.

The aluminum monopolies also dominate aluminum processing. Since the 1960’s they have stepped up their penetration into this branch by building large new enterprises and also by buying small firms.

The aluminum monopolies are powerful combines with a complete production cycle including the extraction of bauxites; the production of alumina, aluminum, and semifinished products of aluminum; and the generation of electric power. The biggest companies have their own fleets and railroad lines for the transportation of raw material. The aluminum monopolies are strongly specialized: the output of aluminum in all its forms accounts for between 80 and 100 percent of their output. After having seized the patents and the sources of raw material and of inexpensive electric power, the major aluminum monopolies for a long time completely dominated the field and prevented the establishment of new companies. Alcoa alone monopolized the production of aluminum in the USA until 1941 and in Canada until 1948. Two other US aluminum monopolies managed with great difficulty to establish themselves in this industry by using their connections with the major finance groups and with the government.

After World War II monopolies of other industries became active in this branch; these included the chemical industry (Montecatini Edison), the copper industry (Anaconda, USA), and others.

The aluminum monopolies are partners in cartel agreements dividing raw material sources and markets and keeping prices on a high level.

The leading aluminum monopolies are among the biggest industrial companies of their countries. They expand abroad vigorously by exporting goods and capital. They have enterprises in other countries for the extraction of bauxites, the output of alumina, and the production and processing of aluminum. Since the 1950’s the US and Canadian aluminum monopolies have stepped up their penetration into the aluminum industry of Western Europe. In some of these countries they have seized the commanding positions in the production of primary aluminum (Britain, Norway) and also in aluminum processing (Britain, West Germany). In Britain they have established control, jointly with British monopolies, over the British Aluminium Company Ltd., which is the country’s only producer of primary aluminum and a big producer of semifinished

Table 1. Share of leading monopolies in primary aluminum output in 1966
CompanyCountryOutput of primary aluminum1 (thousand tons)Proportion of world capitalist output (percent)
1 Including output of enterprises abroad
2 Approximately; includes Pechiney’s share in output of subsidiaries abroad according to its participation in the assets
3 Approximately; includes 37,000 tons in Britain and 109,000 tons in Canada
Alcoa ....................................United States1,03918.6
Alcan Aluminium Ltd........................Canada96817.4
Reynolds Metals Company..................United States67412.1
Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation ...United States66712.0
Pechiney SA .............................,France38526.92
Swiss Aluminum Ltd. (Alusuisse).............Switzerland2935.3
Vereinigte Aluminiumwerke AG (VAW)........Federal Republic of Germany1883.4
Ardal og Sunndal A/S......................Norway1693.0
British Aluminium Company Ltd..............Britain15032.7
Nippon Light Metal Company Ltd.............Japan1182.1

goods. They also took over other firms producing semifinished products. This gives them control over more than 80 percent of the output of these goods. In 1967 a fight broke out between Alcan, Reynolds Metals, Alusuisse, and the British firm Rio-Tinto Zinc Company over a permit to build two big aluminum plants in Scotland.

The aluminum monopolies have close ties to the bourgeois governments. In some countries the government owns aluminum companies (West Germany, Austria) or has stock in them (Norway). The reasons for this link are, besides the general trend toward state monopoly, the importance of aluminum as a strategic raw material and the high capital intensity of the industry. During World War II the aluminum monopolies had lucrative government contracts and greatly increased their capacity. The government also built several aluminum plants and later transferred them to the aluminum monopolies. War production holds an important place in the production program of the aluminum monopolies. The biggest aluminum monopoly is the Aluminum Company of America, or Alcoa. It accounts for 35 percent of the aluminum output in the USA. Alcoa owns bauxite deposits in Surinam (about two-thirds of the total extraction) which supply 50 percent of the bauxites that Alcoa processes in the USA. It also owns mines in several Latin American countries and participates in the mining of deposits in Guinea and Costa Rica. In Britain it controls, with Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), the Imperial Aluminium Company Ltd. (Impalco), a company that produces semifinished aluminum products. Aluminum in all its forms accounts for practically 100 percent of Alcoa’s turnover. In 1966, 10 percent of its output was used for armaments. It is owned by the Mellon group and is one of the companies that yield the highest profits.

Alcan Aluminium Ltd. (until 1966 Aluminium Ltd. or ALTED) is the biggest industrial company in Canada. Until 1948 it was the only aluminum producer in the country, and in 1966 it accounted for about 90 percent of the total output. Alcan was set up as a subsidiary of Alcoa. In 1951, Alcoa had to make a formal sale of its stocks in Alcan because it had violated the so-called antitrust legislation. In fact, a considerable part of the stocks remained in the hands of American capitalists. Alcan’s foreign economic expansion is particularly vigorous. It exports about 80 percent of the aluminum it produces and is the biggest aluminum exporter in the capitalist world. It mines bauxites in eight countries and controls about 50 percent of the extraction in Guyana; one-fourth of its aluminum is produced at enterprises that are located in seven foreign countries. It has aluminum

Table 2. Largest aluminum monopolies of the capitalist world in 19661 (in million dollars)
CompanyYear of foundingAssetsInternal capitalEmployees (in thousands)TurnoverGross profitGross profit (in percent)Net profit
       of turnoverof internal capital 
1 Monopolies listed according to magnitude of turnover
2 After the absorption of the company Trefimetaux in 1967, the turnover and the assets of Pechiney reached $1,100,000,000 and $700,000,000, respectively
3 Only at enterprises of head company
North America
Aluminum Company of America (United States) ...........................18881,94098451.01,37318313.318.9106
Alcan Aluminium Ltd. (Canada)..............19281,73663265.099817917.928.278
Reynolds Metals Company (United States) ....19281,34058132.083913015.522.464
Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation (United States) ..........................19401,13442727.078212217.028.359
Western Europe
Pechiney SA (France)2 .....................18554542077383713
Alusuisse (Switzerland) ....................188810473213266.7
Vereinigte Aluminiumwerke AG (Federal Republic of Germany)............191720051121909.4518.52.8

processing plants in 31 countries and marketing branches in more than 100 countries. Alcan owns 50 percent of the stock in Ardal og Sunndal, which is the biggest aluminum company in Norway and the fourth largest in Western Europe (the remaining 50 percent is owned by the government). In 1968 it built, with VAW, a rolled aluminum plant in West Germany; this plant is the biggest of its kind in Western Europe. It controls the leading Japanese company, Nippon Light Metal. Aluminum in all its forms accounts for 85 percent of its turnover.

The second largest US aluminum monopoly, Reynolds Metals Company, is controlled by the Reynolds finance group. It began producing aluminum in 1941, and in 1966 it accounted for about one-fourth of aluminum casting in the country. With the support of the tobacco monopoly Reynolds Tobacco, its parent company, it fought Alcoa. It is the leading producer of aluminum foil. It mines bauxites in the USA, Jamaica, and Guyana and participates in the mining of deposits in Africa and in Greece. It has been active in Western Europe and in other regions since World War II. In particular, in Britain it manages, with Tube Investments Ltd., British Aluminium; through this company it controls Canadian British Aluminium, which is Canada’s second-largest aluminum producer.

The Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation produces about 25 percent of aluminum in the USA. After World War II it was given several government aluminum plants, which became its base. It also participates in the output of semifinished products in Britain, West Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, and other countries and owns plants in India, Japan, Ghana, the UAR, and Latin America. It uses bauxites mined mainly in the USA and Jamaica. It participates in consortiums mining deposits in Australia. It is part of the Henry Kaiser military and industrial group.

Pechiney SA (France) is the biggest European aluminum monopoly. In 1966 it accounted for 20 percent of the aluminum casting in Western Europe and 80 percent in France (284,000 tons). It controls 85 percent of the country’s output of semifinished aluminum products. It has several agreements with Ugine, the second largest aluminum producer in France. These two companies have jointly set up the marketing syndicate Aluminium France, which has monopolized the aluminum export from the country. Pechiney participates in aluminum casting in Cameroon, the USA, Greece, and Spain. Most of its bauxites are mined in France, Greece, and Cameroon. It is a member of consortia for mining bauxite deposits in Guinea and Australia.

Aluminum in all its forms accounts for less than 50 percent of the turnover of Pechiney, because it also holds an important place in the country’s chemical industry. After it absorbed the company Trefimetaux in 1967, it became the biggest producer of nonferrous and rare metals in France and one of the first five industrial companies of France. It participates in the country’s atomic industry. The Swiss company Alusuisse is the second largest aluminum producer in Western Europe (16.6 percent in 1966). Aluminum accounts for 90 percent of its turnover. It controls more than 50 firms, including aluminum casting plants in Switzerland, the USA, West Germany, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Austria, and Egypt. Its enterprises produce semifinished products in several countries. It mines bauxites in France, Italy, Greece, and Sierra Leone and is a member of a bauxite mining consortium in Guinea.

Vereinigte Aluminiumwerke AG, the third-largest aluminum monopoly in Western Europe, is owned by the government. In 1966 it produced 13 percent of primary aluminum in Western Europe and about 80 percent in West Germany. With other aluminum monopolies, it mines bauxites in Greece, Guinea, and Australia. In 1968 it built, with Alean, Western Europe’s largest plant for producing rolled aluminum (200,000 tons).