Thyssen-Krupp in the corona crisis: A company with previous illnesses

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Thyssen-Krupp in the corona crisis: A company with previous illnesses


The consequences of Corona hit the steel division of Thyssen-Krupp with full force. Without state aid, IG Metall fears the end.


The Thyssen-Krupp steel works in Duisburg is one of the largest industrial plants in Europe.


© Foto: imago images/Rupert Oberhäuser
The Thyssen-Krupp steel works in Duisburg is one of the largest industrial plants in Europe.


When angry steel workers take to the streets, the pot burns. The battle for the plant in Duisburg-Rheinhausen at the end of the 1980s is an example of the painful change in the Ruhr area. The coal is gone, the last mine was closed two years ago and steel is once again so deeply in crisis that the state is called for. To this end, IG Metall is gathering 3,000 steel workers from Thyssen-Krupp on the Rheinwiese in Düsseldorf today to make steam for Armin Laschet, father of the country. If the state saves Lufthansa and Tui, then it cannot let the steel die, argue the employee representatives. The need is so great that Martina Merz, CEO of Thyssen-Krupp, now calls state participation an “option”. Prime Minister Laschet doesn’t think much of it “currently”.

Demo on the Düsseldorf Rheinwiese

For once, Corona comes in handy for politicians, because only 3000 protesters are allowed to gather on the Rhine today. Nevertheless, the effort for IG Metall is considerable: the buses to the meeting place are only half occupied, and it is registered who is sitting in which seat. Corona hits Thyssen-Krupp as hard as a person with previous illnesses, according to the union. The virus knocks out the already ailing group. Laschet cannot leave this unaffected either. In North Rhine-Westphalia 27,000 people earn their living in the steel industry, the vast majority of them working for intensive care patients Thyssen-Krupp. This is one of the reasons why the CDU politician has put the label “systemically relevant” on the branch; a first requirement for state aid.

Expensive conversion to hydrogen

Thyssen-Krupp’s steel division made a loss of 700 million euros in the first nine months of the fiscal year alone. Like the entire industry, the Essen-based group is suffering from the corona-related recession and the transformation in the automotive industry, one of its most important customers. In addition, overcapacities in Europe and worldwide, especially in China, have been a burden for years. After Donald Trump started the trade war with the Chinese, they are increasingly shipping crude steel to Europe at dumping prices. After all, the decarbonization of the extremely energy-intensive industry is causing problems. The steel industry causes around 30 percent of industrial CO2 emissions in this country. If the steel is to be cast in a climate-neutral manner by 2050, then it is for them Conversion to hydrogen The industry has calculated that around 30 billion euros will be required. Since Thyssen-Krupp and Salzgitter, Eko in Eisenhüttenstadt and the Saarland steel cookers cannot raise this amount on their own, the taxpayer community has to help. Armin Laschet and Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier agree: yes, innovation and investment aid, please don’t state participation.

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Eight billion euros burned

At market leader Thyssen-Krupp, the general industry problems come with the Consequences of management errors. The group burned more than eight billion euros in two steelworks in Brazil and the USA. Under CEO Heinrich Hiesinger, the adventures of his predecessors came to an end and the systems of the Steel Americas division were sold at a huge loss by 2017.

Hiesinger stepped back in exasperation

Gerhard Cromme, who once closed Rheinhausen as Krupp boss, headed Thyssen-Krupp’s supervisory board for more than a decade. Cromme brought the Siemens manager Hiesinger from Munich to Essen so that he could turn the ailing group into a focused industrial company; similar to Siemens and possibly without the traditional mainstay of steel. Hiesinger set the course for the merger of the steel business with Indian Tata Steel – which was then banned by the EU Commission for reasons of competition. At the time in the middle of last year, Hiesinger was already from the court: the CEO had thrown away, annoyed by the behavior of the activist investors on the supervisory board and disappointed by the lack of support from the Krupp Foundation. The chairman of the supervisory board, Ulrich Lehner, went with them right away – and so the group also got into a management crisis.

17 billion euros for the elevators

The former Bosch manager Martina Merz was persuaded and took over the chairmanship of the supervisory board. When the Hiesinger successor Guido Kerkhoff acted increasingly unsuccessfully, Merz moved to the board. She sold the profitable elevator business for a good 17 billion euros. A kind of emergency sale in order to use the proceeds to reduce debts, strengthen new business areas and catch up on investments in steel that were not made under Hiesinger. But then Corona came. And the money melts away.

Allegedly Merz is holding talks with the Swedish SSAB, or again with Tata or Baosteel from China. The employee representatives fear “break-up, filleting, dismantling”. And call for the state. After all, the state of Lower Saxony also holds a good quarter in Salzgitter. And the steel works in Saarland are under the protective umbrella of a foundation. “Thyssen-Krupp Steel cannot do it alone,” says IG Metall board member Jürgen Kerner, who is one of the speakers on the Rheinwiese today.

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