Industry in Magnitogorsk


Industry in Magnitogorsk centers around the worlds largest single steel milling and shaping factory. The five mills at the plant produced the steel for half of all of the Russian tanks during WWII. This historically military emphasis is typical in the Stalin Era city and is commemorated in a statue of the personified Soviet Worker handing the sword that he has forged to the Soviet Soldier.

This legacy of steel manufacturing lives on today in the massive amounts of raw steel, pig iron and finished products produced at the Magnitogorsk Metal Works. In 1996 the factory produced 7.5 million tons of steel, which is roughly equivalent to the entire steel output of Great Britain or Canada. This feat is made even more amazing by the fact that there are no naturally occurring resources currently within easy distance of the city. The once rich mine on Magnetic Mountain is now depleted and there never actually existed any coal for coking the iron on the site. Now all of the raw materials must be hauled in over the rails from various locations all over Russia. It may seem odd that a country with slightly more than half of the population of the United States would produce just as much steel and pig iron. This  discrepancy is due to several factors. During the crash industrialization of the Stalin Era a tremendous emphasis was placed on quantity of goods, tonnage of steel was in demand, rather than quality of steel. This push was an attempt to get the USSR cought up to the United States in industrial capacity. This push therefore required tremendous amounts of measurable goods, tonnage of steel for example, and in the command economy, what the government dictates is what the factories attempt to produce. A second factor was due in large part to the faulty infrastructure in the Soviet Union. Since manufacturers knew that their shipments of raw steel would not arrive on time, they ordered far more than they needed and ordered it far more frequently and kept tremendous inventories of steel on hand which, because of the large amount of time spent in poor storage conditions, would rust away and become useless. Thus, the cycle started over again.
Condidtions in the factory have always been far from pleasant.  At certain points during the construction of the factory injuries and deaths averaged over one per day.  Conditions improved as time went on, but they are still not up to snuff with Japanese or American steel production standards.  Injuries are still more common than in the US and conditions are worse.  A major factor in the increased hazard level in the Magnitogorsk Steel Works is the condition of the equipment and facilities.  The majority of equipment in the factory still relies on technology developed in the 1930s when the plant was built and in many places the machines themselves are the same ones installed in the origional factory at its inception.  The age of the machinery coupled with overuse and poor maintanence habits has resulted in the condition of the factory today.  Many of the machines have been continuously run over capacity and not given time for repair so that the factory would meet its quota.  The practice of "storming" also took its toll ont he machinery and workers.  Storming is a practice instituted under the planned economy the end of a production cycle.   If the plant had not yet reached it's quota of steel produced, then the plant would shift into overdrive and produce the remaining portion of the quota.  This often doubled or tripled the plant's normal output.  This degradation of machinery, coupled with its age and inefficiency have combined for a truly difficult working environment.  Workers in the factory have been reported to prefer the summer months to the winter because in the summer the factory allows its roof and skylight system to open which reduces the concentration of fumes.

These poor working conditions along with the age and quality of machinery combine to reduce the efficiency of the plant significantly.  Today the plant has a staff of 55,000 workers and produces only 30% of the steel it did only a decade ago.  As matters stand now, the plant is extremely inefficient compared to plants in Japan and the United States.  Workers in the Lenin Steelworks in Magnitogorsk produce an average of 183 tons of steel per year, while the Gary Works in Gary, Indiana produces an average of 1800 tons of steel per worker per year.
 The Current state of the steel mill is rather up in the air.  While the mill is chugging along at less than a third of its regular capacity, it is still one of the more viable Russia industries.  Asian countries without their own steel manufacturing complexes have been relatively eager to buy the cheap steel from this Russian plant.  Foreign sales have resulted in an income of hard currency for the plant workers, each of whom is paid more than the national average.  In addition, American, Asian and European investors have all  been interested in refurbishing the plant with modern equipment and pollution reduction devices in hopes of revitializing the plant.  So far their efforts have come with moderate success, which often spurs more investment.  This said however, the plant still suffers from periodic shutdowns due to lack of materials and equipment breakdown.