In 1973 a strike by employees of the auto manufacturer Ford became the first major labor action in West Germany to be carried out predominantly by migrant workers. After 300 Turkish employees were terminated without notice, 400 Turkish coworkers demonstrated and were soon joined by the entire late-shift crew.
Ford’s Cologne plant had profited strongly from the bilateral agreement on labor recruitment (Anwerbeabkommen) between the FRG and Turkey, with Turkish laborers comprising around a third of its workforce in 1973. (LINK, Bilateral labor recruitment agreements of the FRG, 1960-1968). After 300 Turkish employees were terminated there without notice, 400 of their Turkish colleagues demonstrated and were soon joined by the entire late-shift crew. On the following Monday, the approximately 12,000 employees working the early shift staged a walkout and demonstrated on the factory grounds. The strike was not endorsed by official employee representatives or the IG-Metall labor union and thus counts as the first major labor action to be organized primarily by migrant workers.
Most of the strikers belonged to the lowest-paid category of workers at the plant and were not well represented in the employees’ representative committee. Thus their demands included a lengthening of breaks and a reduction in conveyor-belt speed as well as a wage increase. Additionally, the strikers demanded the possibility of talking more holiday at once, in order to cover the lengthy journey to their home country.
The strike ended with no reversal of the firings. Several of the strikers were terminated or threatened with termination. Nonetheless, the strike counts as one of the most important in a so-called “wave of wildcat strikes” that followed in places such as the Opel plant in Bochum.
It is important to note that these strikes were not always carried out by men. The Pierburg strike, held at the automotive supplier Pierburg-Neuss in August 1973, provides an example of self-organized action by female migrant workers, protesting not only their working conditions but also the racial discrimination practiced by Alfred Pierburg and his management. The strike became legendary for being led by and for female migrant workers in solidarity with their non-migrant colleagues. It was also successful; the result was the abolition of the “Low Wage Group II” comprised solely of women.