Iron and Steel Monopolies

Iron and Steel Monopolies


Ferrous metallurgy in the capitalist countries is characterized by a high degree of concentration and monopolization of production. The five largest monopolies account for approximately one-fourth of the capitalist world’s steel production.

Until the 1960’s, the level of concentration and monopolization of production in the US iron and steel industry was significantly higher than in Western Europe and Japan, where a rapid procession of mergers and take-overs in the industry took place in the 1960’s. In the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), the steel firms August Thyssen-Hütte AG, Krupp, and Hoesch-Werke AG increased their economic power by absorbing several companies. Thus, in 1973, August Thyssen-Hütte AG, after having absorbed the firm of Rheinstahl AG, controlled more than 30 percent of the steel production capacity of the FRG. Japanese iron and steel companies, which had rapidly introduced and improved advanced foreign technology and which used modern methods for the intensification of labor, occupied a leading position in world steel production by the early 1970’s. In 1970, the firm Nippon Steel became the largest capitalist steel producer through the merger of the two leading Japanese monopolies, Yawata Iron and Steel and Fuji Iron and Steel. Upon the nationalization of the iron and steel industry in Great Britain in 1967, 14 private companies were combined into one state firm, British Steel Corporation, which almost completely monopolized the country’s smelting of pig iron and steel. In France, the firm of Usinor absorbed Lorraine Escaut in 1966 and became the industry’s leading firm in that country, accounting for one-third of French steel production. In 1975 the ten largest iron and steel monopolies included four Japanese, two American, one British, one West German, one Italian, and one Dutch-West German firm (see Table 1).

The iron and steel monopolies of the USA and the countries of Western Europe embrace a network of integrated facilities. They mine or participate in the mining of iron ore, coal, and limestone. Most Japanese companies use imported ore, scrap, and coal. The monopolies produce pig iron, steel, ferroalloys, high-quality steels, rolled products, pipe, steel structures, and semifinished

Table 1. The largest iron and steel monopolies in the capitalist countries (1975)
 Year foundedSteel production (million tons)Employees (thousands)Assets (billion dollars)Satesvolume (billion dollars)Net profit (billion dollars)
Nippon Steel (Japan) ...............197032.5989.58.80.1
United States Steel (USA) ...............190124.01738.18.20.6
British Steel (Great Britain) ...............196717.22236.35.30.2
Bethlehem Steel (USA) ...............190415.91134.65.00.2
Nippon Kokan (Japan) ...............191214.7435.84.20.04
Sumitomo Metal Industries (Japan) ...............189713.4445.64.20.05
Kawasaki Steel (Japan) ...............190613.4445.53.80.03
August Thyssen-Hütte (FRG) ...............187112.21414.98.80.1
Finsider (Italy) ...............193711.4525.72.7–0.1
ESTEL (Netherlands-FRG) ...............19729.6753.83.3–0.08

and finished steel products, as well as refractory materials, rollers, and oxygen. They control large machine-building and shipbuilding enterprises and have large transport fleets and an extensive network of marketing branches covering most capitalist countries.

Until World War II, iron and steel monopolies formed the basis of the military-industrial strength of the imperialist countries. From the 1950’s to the 1970’s, their importance in the production of military hardware diminished somewhat, and they lost their position to aerospace and electronics monopolies. However, the production of military products (special steels and alloys, armored vehicle and tank bodies, gun barrels, and warships) continues to play an important role in their production programs. The major form of foreign economic expansion of iron and steel monopolies is the export of products, which accounts for approximately 30 percent of the total sales volume of most large firms. Iron and steel production is concentrated at domestic plants; mining facilities supplying ore and minerals are mainly located abroad. However, in the 1960’s iron- and steel-producing companies increased their capital export to foreign processing and other metallurgical enterprises. The trend was accelerated in the 1970’s as a result of increased production costs and the high cost of environmental protection measures, especially in Western European countries. For example, steel monopolies in the FRG are rushing construction of industrial complexes in Brazil.

The iron and steel monopolies are linked by many cartel agreements; examples are the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the International Iron and Steel Institute (IISI) in Brussels. Iron and steel monopolies are components of the major financial monopoly groups. At the same time, there are strong state monopolistic trends in the industry: the major iron and steel producers in Great Britain, Italy, and Austria are controlled by the state.

The largest iron and steel monopoly, Nippon Steel, accounts for approximately 8 percent of steel production in the capitalist countries and more than 30 percent of Japanese production. It operates 11 plants and imports ore from Australia, India, and Africa and coal from the USA, Australia, and Canada.

The largest iron and steel company in the USA, United States Steel Corporation, produces approximately 25 percent of the steel and 40 percent of the pig iron in the USA. It exploits iron ore deposits in the USA, Canada, Venezuela, and Brazil; coal deposits in the USA; and deposits of manganese, chromium, and other ores in Brazil, Gabon, France, and the Republic of South Africa. It is controlled by the Morgans and the Boston and Chicago financial groups.

The monopoly Bethlehem Steel Corporation produces 15 percent of the steel in the USA and exploits deposits of iron and manganese ore in the USA, Canada, and the countries of Latin America. It is controlled by the Morgans.

British Steel Corporation was established as a result of the nationalization of steel-producing companies and accounts for more than 85 percent of the steel production and 55 percent of the output of rolled steel in Great Britain.

The second-ranking Japanese iron and steel monopoly, Nippon Kokan, produces about 15 percent of the steel in Japan and also manufactures refractory materials and oxygen. Steel and steel products account for approximately two-thirds of the firm’s sales. Nippon Kokan imports iron ore, steel scrap, and coal and is a component of the Fuji financial group.

The Japanese firms Sumitomo Metal Industries and Kawasaki Steel each account for 13 percent of Japanese steel production. Sumitomo Metal Industries is Japan’s largest producer of steel pipe, accounting for approximately one-fourth of the country’s total pipe production; it is the major industrial company of the Sumitomo financial group. Kawasaki Steel specializes in the production of rolled sheet steel (more than 60 percent of its sales) and is linked to the Sanwa group.

The leading iron and steel company in the FRG, August Thyssen-Hütte, was second in sales among the West German industrial monopolies in 1974 and accounts for more than 30 percent of the steel production in that country. It participates in coal mining in the FRG and in mining iron ore in Brazil, Liberia, and Mauritania. It is owned by the Thyssen family and is a component of the Thyssen-Oppenheim financial group.

The Italian government owns 55 percent of the capital of the firm Finsider, and the remaining portion belongs to major Italian monopoly groups. Finsider controls about 90 percent of the production of pig iron and approximately 50 percent of the steel production in Italy. Its largest steel-producing affiliate is Italsider. It also accounts for almost 40 percent of steel pipe production and owns enterprises engaged in the mining of coal and iron ore.

The Dutch-West German monopoly ESTEL has seven plants in the FRG and four in the Netherlands. Hoesch-Werke AG and Hoogovens Ymuiden BV are branches of ESTEL. Hoesch-Werke AG is the second largest steel producer in the FRG, accounting for 5.2 million tons, or 13 percent of the total production, of steel in 1975. Hoogovens Ymuiden BV is the leading Dutch steel producer. (See alsoFERROUS METALLURGY.)