Self-organization of migrants in the FRG



Activism & Resistance Identity & Belonging

As labor migration to West Germany becomes established through the 1950s and 1960s, migrant laborers begin to form the first organizations there to represent their interests.

Prior to the founding of so-called “migrant-founded organizations” (MSOs), migrant laborers were cared for by German charity institutions. Church-affiliated organizations in particular, which had applied their Christian sense of mission to the task of socially integrating refugees and displaced persons in the FRG in the immediate post-war years, were given a new task by the arrival of foreign laborers.

While the Catholic relief organization Caritas Germany devoted itself to caring for migrants from Catholic-majority countries such as Italy, Spain and Portugal, the Diakonisches Werk, a protestant charity organization, took responsibility for protestant migrants as well as members of the Greek Orthodox Church. The decentralized secular charity organization Arbeiterwohlfahrt (AWO) was responsible for Turkish workers. The local AWO organizations in Stuttgart and Cologne were the first to set up advice centers for Turkish laborers under the name Türk Danis. Advisors dealt primarily with bureaucratic issues concerning banks, insurance providers, and state authorities and officials, but were also available to offer assistance on job-related, legal and private matters. The number of advice centers grew to 37 by 1967.

The services offered by Türk Danis, however, were taken advantage of only by a small fraction of the Turkish community, as they were restricted largely to institutional matters and only offered during limited opening hours. Thus the first self-organized migrant workers’ associations formed during this time. The Turkish Laborers‘ Association, founded in Cologne and the greater Cologne area in 1962, counted among the first such Turkish associations in West Germany, and many others were to follow. While Turkish MSOs were in most cases organized independently of state or religious institutions, the associations founded by Italian, Spanish, and ex-Yugoslavian workers affiliated themselves predominantly with the church. While migrant associations initially provided meeting points where cards could be played and newspapers read, more offerings for women, such as women’s choirs and sewing circles, began to emerge in the 1970s [see: Self-organization among immigrant women, 1991]. As time went on, associations with specific focuses, such as sporting associations (especially football clubs) or political organizations formed. The latter performed an essential function for the political participation of migrants in West Germany, especially in light of the minimal rights they otherwise enjoyed in this regard (e.g. not having the right to vote).