© Bernd Dongowski

”Steel is the future”

Manuela Kropp

***An Italian and French version of the report can be found at the bottom of the page***


The “Steel is the future” conference took place on 13 April 2024 in Salzgitter (Information Centre of Salzgitter Flachstahl GmbH)**

Here you can find the conference programme.


In his opening speech, Heinz Bierbaum, Chairman of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, pointed out that steel is irreplaceable for the socio-ecological transformation and that the steel of the future must be green steel. And how important IG Metall and the works councils are for the question of the transformation to green steel: because without them, no steps would be taken in this direction. However, in addition to the question of how much CO2 is contained in steel, the role of steel in armaments and the attitude of the trade unions and works councils to this must also be discussed.


Panel 1: Overview of the steel industry and current challenges – Why is industrial policy necessary? Why is the steel industry important for the transformation of society?

Steffen Lehndorff, Research Fellow at the Institute for Work and Skills at the University of Duisburg-Essen (IAQ), refers right at the beginning to his overview of the studies on the socio-ecological transformation of industry: “On the way to climate-neutral industry (May 2022)“, which are dedicated to the steel sector, the chemical industry and the automotive industry. The transformation of the steel sector is particularly important, as it is responsible for seven per cent of Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions. In this context, three “major construction sites” are emerging: firstly, infrastructure policy (green electricity, grid expansion, production of green hydrogen, hydrogen networks), secondly, a corresponding industrial policy and thirdly, labour policy. The

Heinz Bierbaum, Florian Wilde, Ulrike Eifler, Kristina Vogt and Steffen Lehndorff. © Roland Kulke

necessary infrastructure expansion will intensify the debate about public budgets and the necessary public investment – because EUR 500 – 800 billion in public investment will be necessary in Germany over the next ten years.

This means that a climate fund to circumvent the debt brake is indispensable. Industrial policy must promote technological innovations, the circular economy and green lead markets; public procurement policy is also important (including at municipal level) in order to align industrial policy accordingly. In this context, it is also clear that public funds and contracts must be linked to social conditions. According to the Federal Environment Agency, EUR 50 billion in environmentally harmful subsidies are paid out in Germany every year – here, too, there is an urgent need for change. And: if subsidies are paid, corresponding social conditions must be met.

With regard to the third “major construction site”, labour policy, Steffen Lehndorff emphasised that structural change must be made possible through social security. This is particularly explosive, he said, because the labour market in Germany is virtually split – among other things due to Hartz IV (social security system). In the event of necessary occupational change, there would be enormous losses of income in some cases for the workers – making it all the more important to strengthen collective bargaining coverage in Germany (e.g. by strengthening the declaration of general applicability). IG Metall and ver.di should and could join forces here and formulate joint demands, as both sectors (industry and services) are affected by the division of the labour market. Continuing education and increasing the training rate (19 per cent of young people in Germany do not have a vocational qualification) should also be considered as a matter of urgency.

And, of course, the option of reducing working time to cope with the transformation should not be neglected. In conclusion, Steffen Lehndorff emphasised that the trade unions’ ability to engage in political conflict on these major construction sites of transformation must also be strengthened at company and regional level. The regional transformation networks can also be used for internal trade union networking. And works councils can prepare themselves for co-determination on the strategic direction of companies, as recently called for by Christiane Benner, First Chair of IG Metall, with the help of future collective agreements and future workshops. Steffen Lehndorff concluded by saying that the ability of trade unions to deal with conflict “at the top” and “at the bottom” are two sides of the same coin.

Ulrike Eifler, spokesperson for the BAG Betrieb & Gewerkschaft (DIE LINKE), emphasised in her speech how dramatic the upcoming challenges posed by the socio-ecological transformation are and that the transformation of the steel industry cannot be avoided. The steel industry is the foundation of our prosperity, but jobs in this industry can only be future-proof if the transformation is tackled. The production of green steel using electricity would certainly create new jobs, but the restrictions on the blast furnace route would also lead to job losses. This makes it all the more important to remember the slogan of the steel workers after the Second World War, when they resisted the dismantling of their plant in Salzgitter as a reparation payment: “The dismantling of industry is the dismantling of democracy”.

Today’s overcapacity in steel production is not just a cyclical event, but also a sign of the deep crisis of capitalism. As Klaus Dörre describes it as an economic and ecological “pincer crisis” (Zangenkrise), because nature can no longer cope with production under these conditions. But industrial policy must be more than just a repair mechanism against the consequences of unleashed capitalism. In the course of the transformation of the steel industry, it is important to expand the democratisation of companies and the participation of employees – for example, by strengthening collective bargaining, reforming works constitution law and the instrument of the future collective agreement.

If public funds were to flow, the state would also have to acquire state ownership shares and exert a corresponding influence on strategic corporate decisions. In conclusion, Ulrike Eifler emphasised that the current debate on armaments shows how important it is what is produced and what is not produced – because the production of rails, buses and trains is essential for climate protection. However, when it comes to production for the defence industry, the question arises as to whether it is part of a circular economy or rather a classic throwaway industry. We therefore need to consider where the steel is used. After all, green steel produced with green hydrogen (i.e. with renewable energies) is valuable and scarce, Ulrike Eifler concluded.

Kristina Vogt, Senator for Economics, Ports and Transformation (Bremen) (DIE LINKE), made it clear right at the beginning that the state must of course intervene politically in order to achieve a successful transformation. The steelworks in Bremen was responsible for around half of the country’s CO2 emissions. Since the 2000s, however, industrial policy had regrettably disappeared from the political agenda and it was therefore all the more important that industrial policy was now actively pursued, also in order to strengthen left-wing and social democratic forces. The steelworks has been an important factor for Bremen since the 1950s, with currently 3,500 direct employees at the steelworks and 200 trainees. The steelworks, which is now owned by ArcelorMittal, produces for wind turbines, turbines and the automotive industry.

Its great economic importance is also reflected in the fact that 21 per cent of all inputs for the steelworks come from the region. In Germany as a whole, 19,000 full-time jobs depend on this plant. When Kristina Vogt became Senator for Economic Affairs in 2019, it was always said in discussions with the company that the transformation to green steel was not possible. Reference was made to the chicken-and-egg problem and it was explained that the inadequate energy transition was hindering the conversion of steel production to green hydrogen. The curbing of offshore wind expansion (a problem at federal level) and the lack of funding for the production of hydrogen further slowed down the transformation. And it was only with the IPCEI projects for the steel industry and the fact that German car manufacturers concluded preliminary agreements with steelworks from Sweden (based on green hydrogen) that the discourse changed and the transformation began. Bremen now has a joint project with Eisenhüttenstadt, which has the advantage that the locations cannot be played off against each other.

Both blast furnaces in Bremen are to be shut down in the future and a direct reduction plant (DRI) for iron ore is to be put into operation (in combination with electric arc furnaces). The state of Bremen is contributing EUR 251 million to the total funding and Kristina Vogt emphasised that the state had to take out loans for this.

In this respect, it is clear how damaging the debt brake is, and even conservative Minister Presidents of the German Länder are calling for the debt brake to be abandoned. Kristina Vogt also emphasised that, as a senator in Berlin and Brussels, she was campaigning for the European carbon border adjustment mechanism CBAM, as well as for the industry electricity price and green lead markets. However, there is simply not enough industrial policy at European level, and even if the European Green Deal sounds wonderful, it is hardly backed up by any finances.

A positive example of this is the USA, which is using EUR 2,000 billion to drive forward the reorganisation of its industry and rebuild the so-called Rust Belt. It is downright negligent that we here in Europe are having a discussion about the debt brake, although it is foreseeable that Asia will switch to green energy in the next 15 years. A deindustrialisation of Europe would fuel the shift to the far right. This makes it all the more important that IG Metall and the works council in Bremen are the allies for the transformation – as there is already a direct reduction plant in Hamburg and there have already been job losses here, the colleagues have a corresponding interest in managing the transformation. Strong co-determination is needed in the industry to address employees’ fears and shape the social transformation. Jobs in the company must be maintained and secured through further training. Kristina Vogt concluded by saying that the international trade union movement must also be involved in the sense of a just transition, so that the mistakes of the 1980s are not repeated with a pure location policy.

Panel 2: Challenges for the necessary energy transition and infrastructure expansion – What is needed at European level? What must a European industrial policy that ensures a just transition look like?

Loris Scarpa from the Italian metalworkers’ union FIOM-CGIL emphasised the importance of the upcoming European elections and the fact that the European steel industry is practically “trapped” between East and West. Metalworkers in Italy are fighting for their dignity and striking against the many deaths at work and against deindustrialisation, like the 12,000 workers who took to the streets in Turin yesterday (12 April 2024) over the Stellantis dispute. It is necessary to transform the steel industry into an environmentally sustainable industry and a new development and business model must be on the agenda. Without an environmentally sustainable steel industry, there can be no just transition.

The European funds made available to Italy must be used urgently for the expansion of renewable energies and hydrogen networks, as Italy is at least five years behind schedule. Loris Scarpa emphasised that the Italian government, which has taken over the former ILVA steelworks, must also put the plants back into operation. The European carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) through the CO2 regulation, and the new requirements for the automotive industry require active state intervention. At least 10 billion euros are needed for the former ILVA. In order to cope with the ecological transition, the production of the European steel industry must be increased, but production is currently slowing down because the corresponding green energy is not sufficiently available. In 2023, 18 million tonnes of steel will be imported into Italy and 21 million tonnes will be produced.

The share of renewable energies in the Italian electricity mix is only 36%, and most of this comes from hydropower. This raises the additional problem that Italian hydroelectric plants have not produced enough electricity in recent years due to water shortages.

In 2023, thousands of employees were laid off to reduce costs, including those of ArcelorMittal. One potential lies in the Italian peculiarity of producing the majority of steel in electric furnaces: In this case, an increase in production can be achieved by investing in the circular economy. The ILVA steel plant needs to be restructured and millions of euros need to be invested in decarbonisation, but ArcelorMittal has only shown interest in using public funds. For FIOM-CGIL, this is unacceptable because the Italian steel industry is ready for a socio-ecological transformation.

Another challenge is the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace: On the one hand, employees need to be trained accordingly; on the other hand, this change will also cost jobs – another task for government industrial policy. Another challenge is the question of how much green hydrogen is actually needed for the transformation of the steel industry – here, too, a state industrial policy is required. FIOM-CGIL is calling on the Italian government to discuss the necessary plans with it. And to be clear: postponing the deadlines for reducing CO2 emissions at European level (as is sometimes discussed) is not an option for FIOM-CGIL. It is not about postponing the deadlines, but about more investment in renewable energies, good working conditions, a reduction in working hours (which FIOM-CGIL is also successfully negotiating) and a fair transition with employee participation.

Fidel Gavilan from the Belgian metalworkers’ union ABVV Metaal emphasised right at the beginning that the consequences of global warming due to climate change will be felt relatively strongly in Belgium, especially in the province of West Flanders. The extent of the changes in the ecosystem can already be seen in the example of China, where the loss of biodiversity (e.g. insects) is already causing problems in agriculture.

Bela Galgoczi, Fidel Gavilan, Manuela Kropp, Loris Scarpa and Samuel Klebaner. © Roland Kulke

ABVV Metaal supports the plans to push ahead with the expansion of infrastructure for and production of green hydrogen. But this also costs a lot of money. Another problem is competition for use: it is important that sufficient cheap and accessible hydrogen is available, as it can also be used in the transport sector.

Another challenge is the question of what energy can be used to produce the hydrogen – the wind turbines and solar panels available in Belgium are not yet sufficient for the conversion of the steel sector. Added to this is the liberalised energy market, which has led to an explosion in energy prices in 2022 and early 2023. A good example of the greening of the steel sector is the example of Tata Steel in the Netherlands. The Dutch trade union FNV, together with the main green NGO, has published a plan to switch from coal to hydrogen. Fidel Gavilan ended his presentation by referring to the difficulties faced by steelworkers in many European countries, in Italy, France, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and England.

Max Vancauwenberge from the Belgian left-wing party PTB emphasised right at the beginning of his speech that 5,000 employees in Gand are directly affected by ArcelorMittal’s decisions and another 5,000 employees are indirectly affected. ArcelorMittal produces five million tonnes of steel a year in Gand with two blast furnaces. In 2021, the steel group planned to switch to a direct reduction plant and two electric furnaces in order to be able to shut down one of the blast furnaces. However, the group is now questioning these investments, citing the high energy costs. In Europe, high energy prices due to the liberalised energy market are threatening industrial production. The loss of Russian gas supplies and the necessary imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) are of course causing prices to rise further. In contrast, the USA has created favourable conditions for subsidies to shape the transformation, for example through the Inflation Reduction Act. Unfortunately, the EU’s reaction to this law is only to make existing regulations more flexible (e.g. with regard to state aid rules). However, this only makes limited sense, as many member states do not have the financial resources to successfully disburse state aid.

This would result in a “two-speed Europe” – on the one hand, rich, economically strong member states that would also benefit from flexibilisation. And on the other hand, less wealthy member states that do not benefit from flexibilisation at all. It is therefore all the more important that subsidies are also linked to conditions. In the energy sector, the example of France shows how a state-owned company can help: the state-owned energy company EDF concludes long-term contracts with industry and can therefore provide energy that is inexpensive because it is virtually “decoupled” from current market prices.

With regard to the geopolitical dimension, Max Vancauwenberge emphasised that Europe must choose its own path. It is therefore all the more important not to fall into a protectionist policy, as Europe simply cannot afford this due to a lack of raw materials. Instead, it is important to implement a European industrial policy with high levels of public investment, for example in infrastructure, the energy sector, fibre optics and transport. An industrial policy where it is not the large multinationals that are in the driving seat, but the public sector.

As Europe is diversified, it will continue to be important to work together with various regional partners in the future. The EU’s current austerity policy (coupled with rising defence spending) is a major obstacle here and must be abolished as a matter of urgency. The switch to green steel requires major investment in the production of renewable energies, as these are currently not sufficiently available. The Belgian Left Party PTB is calling for the creation of a public energy company in order to realise these investments. Faced with the right-wing parties that exploit public discontent, the left must rely on the working class and the class struggle – which makes it all the more important that we discuss these industrial policy issues here.

Samuel Klebaner from the CEPN at the University of Paris emphasises that there are now only three sites with blast furnaces in France: Dunkerque, Fos-sur-Mer and the historic Saint Gobain plant in Pont-à-Mousson. With its steel production, the steel giant ArcelorMittal is responsible for half of the CO2 emissions in the French industrial sector.

ArcelorMittal has itself called on the French government to invest in green steel, with production in Dunkerque being more for the automotive industry and in Fos-sur-Mer more for the markets in the Mediterranean region. As the competitive situation is more difficult in the Mediterranean region, ArcelorMittal from France (Fos-sur-Mer) can sell less there and is much more reluctant to discuss the green transition for this site. For Dunkerque, on the other hand, it is already clear that this site is to be completely decarbonised. Fos-sur-Mer, on the other hand, is now threatened with closure and the two sites (Dunkerque and Fos-sur-Mer) are being played off against each other in the public debate. ArcelorMittal has now interrupted a decarbonisation project in Fos-sur-Mer in order to relocate it to Gand (Belgium). This shows how ArcelorMittal’s various sites are being played off against each other and decarbonisation is being delayed.

Samuel Klebaner also criticises the fact that there is no ambition at all to develop independent regional projects, for example to become independent of the large corporations. At the moment, the situation is such that the employees have to comply with what ArcelorMittal wants – there is a desire to build a ship scrapping plant in Fos-sur-Mer, but the company refuses to set up such a facility. Unfortunately, French employees have far fewer co-determination rights than workers in Germany, even if there are platforms where management and employees can discuss things with each other.

In order to put an end to this behaviour by corporations, political solutions are needed, including at European level – for example, through the policy of public tenders and the corresponding conditions attached to them. Or by controlling demand from upstream producers. The damaging subsidy race between European regions must be ended. Instead, it is important that value creation is distributed more fairly across Europe so that all regions benefit from the socio-ecological transformation. For example, all member states should be able to benefit from the potential of steel scrap – also with a view to the circular economy, which urgently needs to be strengthened. Finally, Samuel Klebaner emphasised that protectionism could harm the EU, simply because of its dependence on raw materials from all over the world.

Bela Galgoczi from the European Trade Union Institute emphasised in his commentary that industrial policy at European level is confronted with three difficulties: the geopolitical challenge, the problem of the European debt brake (austerity policy) and the weakness of the EU level in the field of industrial policy. The EU could not even tackle something similar to the US Inflation Reduction Act, as there is a lack of both legal competence and financial resources at EU level.

With regard to the geopolitical dimension, Bela Galgoczi emphasised that the so-called “de-risking” of China was problematic, simply because of the EU’s dependence on raw materials from China. It would therefore be more important to enforce equal social and environmental conditions with the help of trade policy. It is good that the EU has set itself strict climate targets in the form of the EU Fit for 55 legislation, but on the other hand there is a huge investment gap at European level. In order to achieve its own climate targets, the EU must invest hundreds of billions of euros every year – see, for example, the expansion of wind energy, where only half of the EU targets have been met so far. The European debt rules are therefore counterproductive, as they restrict the financial room for manoeuvre of the member states.

It is very welcome that the EU has set up the NextGenerationEU fund and was able to agree on joint borrowing to deal with the consequences of the pandemic. Unfortunately, however, this fund will most likely expire in 2026. And it is problematic if the EU’s industrial policy consists primarily of deregulation and flexibilisation. And as has already been mentioned, there is a risk of a two-speed Europe emerging, concluded Bela Galgoczi.


Panel 3: Social organisation of the transformation of the steel industry using the example of Salzgitter Flachstahl GmbH – co-determination and collective agreements in practice: securing employment and locations, qualification and further training, publicly funded conversion and exit options.

Lena Fuhrmann, works councillor and member of the supervisory board of Salzgitter Flachstahl GmbH, began by describing the threat posed by privatisation and the sale to Preussag and the fear that this would have meant the closure of the smelter. At the end of the 1990s, the fight to save the steelworks began. IG Metall successfully mobilised, so that the then Minister President of Lower Saxony, Gerhard Schröder, arranged for the purchase of the 26.5 percent stake.

The switch to green steel is already being implemented in Salzgitter – with the SALCOS project (Salzgitter Low CO2 Steelmaking). This is the path to almost CO-free steel production. In the third expansion stage, at the end of 2033, the entire production will then be carried out using electric furnaces. There is currently still a gas-fired power plant on the site, and it is currently being examined whether it can be removed in the future or whether it will still be needed. SALCOS is therefore already in the realisation phase, but currently lacks the equity capital for the further expansion stages. Taxpayers’ money would therefore have to be used here – and the works council is also calling for more co-determination in the transformation.

The production of hydrogen on site is particularly important to the works council, as the entire value chain should be maintained on site. Additional hydrogen should then be brought in using pipelines and not produced using ammonia, as this is too complicated and inefficient. It is particularly important for the works council to be informed and consulted. The employees’ demands are as follows: Qualification of employees so that higher-value activities can also be carried out. The proportion of women in the workforce should increase to 30 per cent. And there should be an agreement to safeguard earnings, so that even when working in lower-paid jobs, earnings are still guaranteed. Outsourcing and work contracts should be avoided, continues Lena Fuhrmann. A needs analysis for employees is needed to determine the need for further training and an increase in the training quota. And, of course, partial retirement and other socially acceptable exit models, Lena Fuhrmann concludes.

Tilman von Berlepsch from Germanwatch emphasises the importance of industrial value creation right at the beginning of his contribution: for example, Germany has emerged from the euro crisis better than other EU member states because the share of industry in overall value creation is higher in Germany. It is therefore very clear that collective bargaining and trade union organisation are crucial for climate protection. The examples of wind power and solar power show how a lack of collective bargaining coverage and a lack of trade union organisation led to an overall weakening – because the federal government was able to simply drop wind and solar power and accept the closure of the plants because basically no one could protest against it in a publicly effective way.

And it is clear that the market will not bring about climate protection – that is why active state intervention, collective bargaining and union organisation are needed. Climate protection and primary steel production go hand in hand, as only 50 per cent of demand can be covered by steel scrap (i.e. recycling). In the meantime, “steel scrap protectionism” has even developed because steel scrap is becoming scarce.

In order to promote green steel, a quota system for public procurement is necessary, for example, as this would ensure that the “premium” on green steel is also paid. For example, it is incomprehensible that Deutsche Bahn is still ordering CO2-intensive carbon steel from Poland. The shortage of skilled labour also needs to be addressed: the production of electrolysers, heat pumps and PV systems requires not only green steel, but also skilled workers. Overall, the potential of a circular economy must be realised – the motto must be: refurbish, repair, reuse. Trade unions and environmental organisations must work together on the issue of tariff coverage, which is so important for the socio-ecological transformation, concluded Tilman von Berlepsch.

Matthias Wilhelm, First Authorised Representative of IG Metall Salzgitter-Peine, emphasised that this region is a “region of transformation”, as it is home to the Salzgitter hydrogen campus, the steel industry and the production of electric cars (Salzgitter, Wolfsburg, Peine, Braunschweig).  In 2013, the joint initiative between Projektregion Braunschweig GmbH and Wolfsburg AG resulted in today’s “Allianz für die Region GmbH”. In 2015, the Volksbank, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce and the Sparkasse joined as shareholders. The regional transformation network SüdOstNiedersachsen was founded on the initiative of IG Metall SüdOstNiedersachsen, which played a decisive role here. And IG Metall demanded that collective bargaining policy must be strengthened through industrial policy in the region – i.e. if funds flow, collective bargaining must also be strengthened.

Matthias Wilhelm and Lena Fuhrmann © Roland Kulke Roland Kulke

To ensure that the transformation is actually socially responsible. The advantages are obvious: the region is not only home to steel production, but also to vehicle manufacturing (automobiles and rail vehicles) and the corresponding supply industry. In order to master the transition to green steel in the region, a value chain for hydrogen is being created: Production, pipeline infrastructure and off-take – with a hydrogen core network, eight electrolysis sites by 2030 and the off-take of green hydrogen by steel, speciality chemicals, power-to-X synthesis and the mobility sector. In future, the switch to green steel will require ten times more electricity than is currently available. This would push the local electricity grid, as it is currently set up, to the limits of its capacity. Some citizens are also against the expansion of the grids, which shows how important the local generation of renewable energy is for industry.

But there is also the problem of resources: water is becoming scarce, scrap is becoming scarce and, last but not least, skilled labour is also becoming scarce. Mistakes have been made in this respect in the past: first the number of employees was reduced for years and now there is a shortage of qualified staff. This is why securing skilled labour is also an issue in the ReTraSon network. In order to exploit the potential of the circular economy, a new competence centre “Material Recycling Management” is currently being set up in cooperation between the TU Braunschweig, the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) and IG Metall. Four transformation hubs are being managed from the region: “Sustainable work in the circular economy KREIS”, “Cooperating, autonomous vehicles for parcel delivery LOGISMILE”, “Market introduction of future vehicle concepts MIAMY” and “Software development in the automotive sector TASTE”. Finally, Matthias Wilhelm referred to the “Transfernale” innovation festival in the South-East Lower Saxony region, with 800 participants in 2023 alone (eight days, eight locations, one Transfernale).


Panel 4: Outlook – How can the transformation be financed? What must long-term planning look like and how do we achieve political majorities for this? How can trade unions become drivers of transformation?

Hans Jürgen Urban, member of the Executive Board of IG Metall and member of the Supervisory Board of Salzgitter AG, confirmed the rapid change in the region over the last ten years, which Matthias Wilhelm had just described. It had long been thought that modern societies had overcome the industrial age, but now the crises of recent years have shown how important good industrial value creation is. The topic of transformation is also still confronted with acceptance problems in society and there are also discussions within the DGB trade unions about which areas should receive subsidies and where not.

The upgrading of industrial policy is not yet “part of the DNA” of German trade unions. The trade unions are experienced in collective bargaining policy, but how do you fight for the decarbonisation of an industrialised society? It is clear that resources need to be redirected within Germany and Europe, but neoliberalism with its austerity policies is still a challenge that stands in the way. Acceptance for decarbonisation must be created among the population, even if neoliberalism has persisted for thirty years. 600 billion euros in public investment will be needed in Germany by 2030 – and then there will be multiplier effects that will trigger further private investment. That sounds like a lot, but it needs to be offset: what would it cost if entire regions were to become deserted and if spending on research and development (80 per cent of which comes from industry) were to be lost?

In view of the current debate on the debt brake, it is clear that the transformation cannot succeed under the conditions of austerity. And it applies: Investments are not deficits, but investments in the future. What is needed is exactly what the works council has been pushing for here on site. But changes are also needed at the level of the tax system in Germany: Wealth tax, inheritance tax, income tax – we could not continue to afford the current distribution of wealth and would have to intervene more strongly, including in corporate profits. And in certain areas, the state should not only “incentivise”, but also regulate and instruct. In order to increase acceptance of the transformation in companies, economic decisions must be made democratically – this requires a strengthening of economic democracy.

Furthermore, it is clear that a strong left is needed in all parliaments, as the budget law alone makes parliaments the decisive places with regard to the transformation. The conditionalities for public funds are also crucial – for example, it must be ensured that public funds do not flow into company bonuses. Transformation agreements in the companies are also essential in order to utilise the expertise of company representatives. Finally, Hans Jürgen Urban referred to a study by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, which showed that in those regions where the necessary financial resources for regional development have been channelled, the approval ratings for the political right are also much lower, by up to 20 percent.

Heinz Bierbaum, Chairman of the Executive Board of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, emphasised that the crucial question was how the transformation would take place: against the employees? With the employees? And in a sustainable way? A bad example of how the transformation should not take place is the closure of the Ford plant in Saarland, in Saarlouis. The employees there were driven into ruinous competition with workers in Valencia, Spain, and the Saarlouis plant will ultimately be closed in 2025. But what would have been necessary instead was cooperation between the employees and the trade unions. And this problem was also discussed today during the conference using the example of ArcelorMittal – the sites are being played off against each other and the employees are losing out.

This makes it all the more important that the ITUC’s (International Trade Union Confederation) demand for a just transition is reaffirmed by us time and again. The issue of financing is also a crucial point: in the end, the Saarland steel industry, for example, received a funding commitment of 2.6 billion euros – this is to be welcomed, but the path to this was always a “nail-biter” for employees. Yet these are strategic investments for the transformation – and the pandemic has shown that the debt rules at European level can also be suddenly suspended if the political will is there. The issue of industrial policy is crucial and the left must give this issue much more space. We need comprehensive industrial policy planning both in Germany and at European level. At one of the next European Council meetings, the strategic principles for 2024-2029 will be adopted – and a leak shows that our demands are not reflected in them at all. There is a lot of talk about a strong and secure Europe and all points are subordinated to defence policy. This is unacceptable, says Heinz Bierbaum, because the kind of industrial policy that is being pursued in favour of armaments is something we need for other areas.

That means we have to discuss: Who produces? What is produced? How is it produced? And where is it produced? This also ties in with the debates on conversion at company level. Democratisation is necessary, with a strong role for trade unions and employees in the transformation. After all, what is on the table today on the subject of transformation only exists because employees have fought for it. In some cases, the fear of losing their jobs has driven employees onto the streets and fuelled the transformation debate. And as relatively far-reaching as coal and steel co-determination is, there is often no influence on strategic decisions. Economic co-determination is therefore also needed in the supervisory board – and not just co-determination on social issues. The European works councils can also play an important role here and should not be underestimated, as they are the only representation of the companies at European level and there are definitely positive results of their work. Last but not least: When public money flows, the participation rights of employees must be a condition. And this discussion in the context of our conference must of course also be held for other areas, Heinz Bierbaum concluded.

Victor Perli, member of the Bundestag for DIE LINKE, emphasised the importance of the work of IG Metall and the works council here in Salzgitter, including in the fight against the right-wing extremists. However, the current actions of the federal government are completely incomprehensible: The policy of cuts is being intensified, and so up to 25 billion euros are to be “squeezed out” of the financial planning for 2025. This is absurd, as Germany already has a very low debt ratio. By 2030, 860 billion euros in additional private and public investment would have to flow into the transformation in order to achieve the climate targets – these are figures from the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) and the Federation of German Industries (BDI).

Heinz Bierbaum, Hans-Jürgen Urban, Ulrike Eifler and Victor Perli. © Roland Kulke

The debt brake in Germany could be circumvented, for example with a declaration of emergency by the Bundestag (with a simple majority). Or a special fund could be voted into the Basic Law (with a two-thirds majority) in order to secure funds for a socio-ecological future. Or the debt brake could be completely removed from the Basic Law – one could return to the “golden rule”, according to which future investments are not added to the debt. These proposals show that the debt brake is increasingly being called into question, at least in public discourse. Even several capital organisations and CDU-led state governments are now speaking out against the debt brake. As far as the role of the state is concerned, the traffic light system fulfils the profit requirements of corporations. Profits are privatised and the risks are borne by the public sector.

One example of this is the re-nationalisation of the “Tennet” transmission grids. Another example: around 20 billion euros are to be invested in the construction of a hydrogen core network, but construction and operation would be left to private companies with guaranteed returns. This does not make sense, which is why DIE LINKE is calling for this hydrogen core network to be placed in public hands. Public money must serve public interests and lead to public ownership. One possible model for this could be industrial foundations. The ban on bonus and dividend payments enforced by the Budget Committee in the electricity and gas price brakes is an example of how public funding can be prevented from flowing to bosses and shareholders. Finally, Victor Perli calls for a European transformation fund, also to support those European member states that are economically weaker and have less financial room for manoeuvre – so that the transformation will succeed in all European states.


Manuela Kropp is a project manager at RSL Brussels.


Italian version:

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French version:

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