This Tuesday morning there is a hint of communism over Friedrich-Ebert-Straße in Duisburg. IG Metall and the Thyssenkrupp works council have called for a rally on the large meadow in front of Gate 1 of the main steel plant. A group of party soldiers from the Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany (MLPD) has set up on the sidewalk. They wave red flags, a man shouts bitter criticism of capitalism into the microphone.

He can hardly be heard because behind him, on the main stage of the rally, a protest singer with a guitar is loudly singing protest songs. “Forward, and never forget/ what our strength lies in,/ in starving and in eating,/ forward, not forgetting,/ solidarity!” In front of him, IG Metallers are handing out pretzels and mineral water to the working people, who in the bright sunshine sometimes seem full of anger and then again in a party mood.

Thousands have come and they have every reason to be angry. Last Friday they were caught off guard when headquarters announced the partial sale of the steel division to billionaire Daniel Kretinsky. According to Forbes, he is the second richest Czech, a coal and gas baron and also a media mogul. So nothing that automatically warms the hearts of workers in the Ruhr region. The spirit of the Montanunion reigns here. The workforce understands co-determination as management and employee representatives making decisions together. Otherwise the steel hammer will circle. A massive example is available on the lectern as a prop for the speakers.

The political celebrities are already waiting behind the stage. Labor Minister Hubertus Heil, SPD, has arrived and is puffing on a quick cigarette in a corner. Bärbel Bas is also there, the President of the Bundestag and therefore the second highest representative of the state. The social democrat is now a steel comrade and has put on a solidarity T-shirt. She sits part-time on the supervisory board of Duisburg Hüttenwerke Krupp Mannesmann (HKM), 50 percent of which is owned by Thyssenkrupp. Finally, Karl-Josef Laumann, CDU, the popular NRW Labor Minister with the face of a happy countryman, brought with him a solidarity greeting from NRW Prime Minister Hendrik Wüst.

You pat each other on the back, you talk to each other on a first-name basis – and you agree as rarely: That, dear Thyssenkrupp boss, things can’t work out! Meanwhile, in the background, the worker-driven protest singer sings “Bella Ciao,” the song of the Italian partisans in World War II. The situation is particularly piquant for the federal and state governments because they sent the Thyssenkrupp Group a funding notice worth two billion euros just a few months ago. The tax money is intended to help finance the necessary conversion to climate-friendly steel production. It is believed that only with green steel can Thyssenkrupp remain globally competitive in the long term.

Kretinsky, the board led by boss Miguel López has decided, should initially take over 20 percent of Thyssenkrupp Steel by autumn and later a further 30 percent. The works council and the IG Metall union were aware that the parties were negotiating, but they apparently only found out about the conclusion through the company’s press release, which the company denies, which Bärbel Bas in turn describes as a lie. 27,000 affected employees now fear for their future. Thyssenkrupp wants to reduce capacity in Duisburg from 11.5 million tons of steel by 1.5 to 2 million tons and cut staff accordingly.

And then there’s talking on stage. Very much. Tekin Nasikkol, head of the corporate works council and member of the supervisory board of Thyssenkrupp, is one of the first to whip up the spirits among the thousands: “Are you ready to fight?” he shouts into the crowd. “Yeah!” she calls back. “I am too!” This is not how you treat the workforce and co-determination, and if so, “then the steel hammer will come!” He grabs the shiny silver tool from the desk and holds it up in the air. “Steel is…” “…great!” he has the protest community chant three times.

“Thyssenkrupp AG has wanted to get rid of us for years. Now they’re trying to get rid of Kretinsky!” Then Nasikkol formulates the red lines for the management: 1.: Do not break the “collective agreement for the future”. 2.: No termination for operational reasons, guaranteed in writing. 3.: Existence guarantee for all locations beyond 2026. 4.: Investments in a green future will not be stopped. If that doesn’t happen, the march on Essen to the company headquarters will begin. “Then we’ll show López where the steel hammer hangs!”

At this moment it is clear to Heil, Bas and Laumann: There is a second “Rheinhausen” in the air. In 1987, the Krupp steelworks in the Duisburg district of the same name was threatened with closure. A wave of protests began that paralyzed almost the entire Ruhr area for weeks. Around 100,000 Germans showed solidarity with the steel workers and blocked bridges and highway entrances. “Rheinhausen should live” was the motto. Soon afterwards the plant was closed anyway.

When Heil steps up to the microphone, the Minister of Labor, who usually appears level-headed, goes into furious mode. He talks about his childhood in the “steel town of Peine,” where steel workers also came under pressure and lost their jobs. He underlines the demands of the Nasikkol general works council. “You are fighting for all of Germany and you are not alone!” he shouts into the microphones, his face red and his forehead furrowed with worry. “Just seeing you makes me proud to be a member of IG Metall,” says Heil.

Backstage, media representatives discuss whether the politicians are going too far. After all, these are company decisions in an industry that has been weakening for years. Germany’s largest steel company has been fighting its decline into global insignificance for a long time. Meanwhile, Heil shouts to the crowd: “We have the right and the obligation to make demands on management. I don’t give a shit if someone writes that we shouldn’t get involved.”

Laumann, his turn after him, throws himself in with the words “Nothing works without steel!” to the roaring crowd. As an “old agricultural machinery fitter” he could tell a thing or two about it. And Bärbel Bas says: “Two billion euros have to be created.” The company’s board of directors should “finally play with open cards.”

After a good hour and a half, it’s over. The field empties quickly. Buses transport the protesters away. The impression remains that managers are fighting for their shareholders and workers for their families on equal terms. “There are far too few of those things today,” says a steelworker in a gray Thyssenkrupp work suit as he leaves the event.

The realization also remains that the election campaign has begun. It would be nice, Heil and Bas must have thought when they looked at all the heads, if everyone soon ticked their box for the SPD. Because they don’t have much fewer problems with their future than Thyssenkrupp Steel.