German steelworkers took to the streets on Monday, demanding more measures against the dumping of cheap Chinese imports and greater job protection amid uncertainty over the future of Thyssenkrupp's steel business.
Germany is Europe's biggest steelmaker and 45,000 workers joined rallies across the country, the IG Metall union said.
The powerful union is demanding job guarantees if Thyssenkrupp merges its steel business with that of India's Tata Steel or another player — a prospect that has become more likely in the past weeks.
Workers fear they could face a similar fate to their peers in Britain, where Tata has put its entire steel business up for sale, putting thousands of jobs at risk.
"I have another 39 years left to work. I don't want to be left on the street," said Ingo, a 28-year-old Thyssenkrupp employee, who identified himself only by his first name, at a march towards Thyssenkrupp's steel headquarters in the city of
Duisburg in the Ruhr valley industrial heartland. That rally drew 16,000 workers.
Steelmaking in Europe has dwindled over the past decades as heavy industry has declined while other countries, in particular China, have ramped up production, selling excess steel on world markets at prices European producers cannot match.
There was some positive news, though, as Tata Steel reached a deal on Monday to sell part of its British operations to investment firm Greybull Capital, saving more than 4,000 jobs.
Still, thousands of other jobs remain at risk as the Indian company has yet to find a buyer for its loss-making plant in Wales.
The European Union has set import duties on some Chinese steel products and has started anti-dumping investigations into others under pressure from Britain, France and Germany but will not impose any new measures until November.
"Brussels must decide: dirty steel from China or good clean steel from [the German state of] NRW," Knut Giesler, head of IG Metall in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia said.
The industry employs 86,000 people in Germany and had revenues of 40 billion euros ($46 billion) in 2014. Thyssenkrupp is the top producer, followed by ArcelorMittal and Salzgitter.
German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel was due to address the protesters at Duisburg on Monday, while IG Metall also organized demonstrations in Berlin and the southwestern state of Saarland.