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Pierburg strike in Neuss, 1973. photo: DOMiD-Archive, Cologne

History, Event, Movies, panel-discussion, Digital offer, Audio/Podcast

"We stopped being guest workers" - 50 years of "wildcat" strikes in 1973

50 years ago, in 1973, there were strikes in over 300 places in the Federal Republic of Germany. Migrant workers, who had come to West Germany in the course of the recruitment agreements since the 1950s, were significantly involved in these strikes. These strikes are often referred to as "wildcat" strikes, since they disregarded the collective bargaining "peace obligation" and the unions were generally not involved in the work stoppages. More recent interpretations, however, place the spontaneous strikes in the context of long-term, unionized labor disputes. The 1973 strikes were merely the culmination of labor struggles in which migrants had been participating since the late 1950s to demand equality with German workers.

The strike at Ford

Most strikes remained small and unnoticed. The strike at the Ford plants in Cologne-Niehl in August 1973 was a different story. The alleged "Turkish strike" attracted nationwide attention, and this labor dispute was stylized as a threat. Racist headlines such as "Turkish terror at Ford" dominated the tabloid press and made the participation of other nationalities invisible. The strike was ended, in part violently, by police and plant security. The workers' demands were not met.

The strike at Pierburg

The strike at the automotive supplier Pierburg in Neuss, Germany, was different, as it was initiated by migrant women workers. They succeeded in getting the works council, which was mostly made up of Germans, to side with them and to work together for better working conditions. Against the will of the plant management, which even afterwards tried to criminalize the strikers, the women were able to push through key demands.

About this special page

On this special page, we document exemplary material on the hundreds of strikes at the Pierburg and Ford plants: films, eyewitness reports, photos. Exclusively we present a short radio play by Mesut Bayraktar and a music video by Nazım Sabuncu about the Ford strike. In addition, there are event tips for the next days and weeks. In addition, we have asked historians, contemporary witnesses and trade unionists about their perspectives today on the "wild" strikes of 1973. Not only is our book, published for the first time as an eBook in the edition DOMiD series, available, but there are also further online links to more detailed information on the labor disputes of that time.

Events ++ Dates ++

#1 02.08.2023, Cologne. Film: Aşk, Mark ve Ölüm ("Liebe, D-Mark und Tod ")

Aşk, Mark ve Ölüm
Love, D-Mark and Death
Documentary, D, 2022, 96 min, OV Turkish / German with English UT
Director: Cem Kaya

At the beginning of the 1960s, people from Turkey brought not only their labor to Germany, but also their language, culture and music. A lively music scene emerged, which had its roots in Anatolia but its heyday in the Federal Republic. It is still omnipresent today.
Cem Kaya's stirring documentary was awarded the Panorama Audience Award at the 72nd Berlin International Film Festival 2022.

Afterwards, the group "Streikkultur" invites to an audience discussion.

An event of the group "Streikkultur".

#2 06.08.2023, Cologne. Contemporary witness talk: "Strike


the homeland evening on sunday morning
with Peter Bach, Mitat Özdemir and Claudia Sledz

Fifty years ago, in 1973, the legendary Ford strike took place. About two thirds of the employees at that time were Turkish workers.
They were employed exclusively in the lower wage groups and were practically unrepresented in the works council. They went on the so-called wildcat strike, which ended after 4 days with police action and dismissals. Shortly thereafter, the government decreed a general
recruitment freeze. Peter Bach and Mitat Özdemir report as contemporary witnesses about the events in Cologne. Claudia Sledz sings.
An event in cooperation with the VHS

Sunday, August 6, 2023
Start 11am
Admission 8€, reduced 6 €

An event of the group "Streikkultur".

#3 Aug. 16, 2023, Cologne. Film: "This work stoppage was not planned".

The documentary "This work stoppage was not planned" documents the wildcat strike at Ford in Cologne in the summer of 1973. The film will be followed by a talk and discussion with strikers from that time.

Rex am Ring, Cologne

An event of the group "Streikkultur".

#4 24.08.2023, Cologne, Exhibition & Discussion: "Labor and Recognition Struggles of Migration between Memory and Actuality".

Exhibition opening & discussion event

"Migration labor and recognition struggles between memory and actuality".

Thursday, August 24, 2023. 6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
at the Mülheim Community Center (MüZe), Berliner Str. 77, 51063 Cologne-Mülheim.

An event by interKultur e.V., in cooperation with Geschichtswerkstatt Mülheim.

Program schedule

18.00 h: Admission & Reception
6.30 pm: Opening of the exhibition "Stages, Conflicts and Recognition Struggles of Migration" (with photos by Manfred Vollmer, Gernot Huber, Sergej Lepke and many others).

Exhibition opening with Nihat Öztürk

(Nihat Öztürk came to the Federal Republic of Germany in 1973 as a foundry worker before he studied, sponsored by the Hans Böckler Foundation, from 1978 on and finally worked for IG Metall for three decades, most of the time as First Authorized Representative and Managing Director in Düsseldorf-Neuss).

An event of the group "Streikkultur.

#5 Sept. 12, 2023, Cologne. Panel: Trade Unions and Social Movements: Between Ignorance, Confrontation and Cooperation

Trade Unions and Social Movements: Between ignorance, confrontation and cooperation.

50 years after the great Ford strike in Cologne, these times are again characterized by strong labor struggles, which are now supported by social movements - whether in the hospital, at Lieferando or in the "social and educational services" sector. Through many years of rapprochement and disputes, ever stronger links have emerged, which currently result in campaigns such as "Wir fahren zusammen" (We drive together), which bring together workers in public transport and the climate movement.

However, the path of unions and social movements does not always lead towards each other, but is often characterized by mutual skepticism, different or even opposing goals, strategies and tactics, competition and knowledge about each other.

These diverse cooperative as well as confrontational experiences urge discussion, reflection and agreement. Therefore, we invite you to discuss together: What are possibilities, obstacles and limits in the cooperation of social movements and DGB trade unions?


Franziska Heinisch (activist & author)
Witich Roßmann (Chairman DGB Cologne & author)

and further panel guests

Nelli Tügel (journalist, author & editor)

September 12, 2023 | 6:00 p.m.
Old Fire Station | Large Forum | Melchiorstr. 3, 50670 Cologne, Germany

A cooperation event of:
DGB Stadtverband Köln, Fridays for Future Köln, Profits harm your health.

#6 1.+2.09.2023, Düsseldorf. Conference: Successful and unsuccessful solidarizations. 50 years of spontaneous strikes

Successful and unsuccessful solidarisations. 50 years of spontaneous strikes

August 2023 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the spontaneous strikes at the auto supplier Pierburg in Neuss and at Ford in Cologne, which already attracted a great deal of attention at the time, but in the following decades, due to the disproportionate share of migrants among the strikers and their "unofficial" character - especially at Ford in Cologne - acquired an almost symbolic significance for a more recent political and academic debate and a (post-)migrant activism.

In recent years, the memory of the 1973 strikes has been primarily characterized by making migrant resistance, migrant (labor) struggles, and migrant actors visible and worthy of attention. The 1973 struggles can also be assigned to a longer temporal arc of labor disputes that can be dated, for example, from late summer 1969 ("September strikes") to 1974 (successful ÖTV strike).

On closer examination, the strikes in this phase of the Federal Republic's history cannot be described dichotomously as "wildcat" strikes against the DGB unions and their "legal" labor struggles, but rather show a contradictory interplay rather than a stark contrast. The strike in Neuss, which was predominantly carried by women and was directed against wage group 2, which in fact discriminated exclusively against women, was also successful because the majority of the works council and the local IG Metall union showed solidarity. For today's left struggles, this could be a hint not to operate too much via demands on the state and legislation, but to focus more on the development and implementation of active practices of solidarity in the world of work.

For this to succeed, conditions of solidarity are crucial that allow for unifying struggles. This was successful in Neuss, but not in Cologne. But this difference between successful and failed solidarization should not be expanded into another dichotomy either; valuable conclusions can also be drawn from failure.

We, that is the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, the Otto Brenner Foundation, the Hans Böckler Foundation, the Foundation for Human Dignity and the World of Work, IG Metall (Executive Board Department Migration and Participation), the IG Metall Düsseldorf-Neuss office, the Institute for Social Movements in Bochum, and the German Labor History Association, are taking the anniversary as an occasion for our conference on September 1 and 2 in Düsseldorf and asking: What is the fascination of these strikes of 1973, and how are they to be assessed today from a historiographical and activist perspective? To what extent can they be productively linked to the current situation?

The conference will begin with a cultural program on the topic on September 1 from 5 p.m. at the DGB-Haus Düsseldorf. The conference will begin on Saturday at 10 a.m. at the same location. Trade unionists, contemporary witnesses, academics and politically active people from different spectrums will engage in discussion in various formats. In addition, a publication from the circle of organizers will appear in the summer.


Friday, September 1:

  • 17:30: Arrival
  • 6:00 p.m.: Welcome and introduction Nuria Cafaro, Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung NRW and Efsun Kızılay, Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung (Berlin)
  • 18:15: Guest Worker Monologues by Mesut Bayraktar. Came to leave, but stayed. A play. A staged reading. Four characters. Taken together, a chorus. One hour and thirty minutes. Based on authentic sources and poetic fiction. Text and scenic arrangement: Mesut Bayraktar. With: Günfer Cölgeçen, Burçin Keskin, Miriam Meißner, Kutlu Yurtseven. Music: Kaptan Bayraktar | Video: Svenja Hauerstein. The reading lasts 90 minutes. Afterwards there will be an opportunity for exchange.
  • 8:30 pm: End

Saturday, September 2

  • 10:00 a.m.: Welcome
  • Dr. Michaela Kuhnhenne, Hans Böckler Foundation
  • 10:10 a.m.: "Migrant Struggles for Recognition and the Role of Trade Unions - a Critical Interim Assessment", Nihat Öztürk, board member of the trade union initiative "Gelbe Hand" and former first authorized representative of IG Metall Düsseldorf-Neuss.
  • 10:40 a.m.: Lecture and discussion: "We are all foreign workers!" - 1973 as a European climax of migrant struggles? Dr. Simon Goeke, curator and research assistant for migration history at the Munich City Museum., Moderation: Dr. Salvador Oberhaus, historian, deputy office director of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation NRW.
  • 12:15 p.m. to 1:00 p.m.: Lunch break
  • 13:00: Lecture and discussion: "Organization and participation of migrant workers in IG Metall - a success story". With Christiane Benner, Second Chairwoman of IG Metall, Moderation: Dr. Michaela Kuhnhenne, Hans Böckler Foundation
  • 2:00 p.m.: "Fraternité. Beautiful Moments in European History." A staged reading from the work of Bernd-Jürgen Warneken.
  • 14:30: Lecture and discussion: "Up the international solidarity? Migrant Employment between Fragmentation and the Struggle to Expand the 'We', With Prof. Dr. Nicole Mayer-Ahuja, Professor of Sociology of Work, Business, Economy at the University of Göttingen, Moderation: Dr. Florian Weis, historian, consultant for anti-Semitism and Jewish left history and present / classes at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (Berlin).
  • 16:00: Coffee break
  • 16:15: Successful and unsuccessful solidarizations: The Spontaneous Strikes at Hella (Lippstadt), Pierburg (Neuss) and Ford (Cologne) in 1973 and their Effects
  • Nuria Cafaro, historian and board member of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation NRW, welcomes Irina Vavitsa, former works councilor at Hella, and Dieter Braeg, former works councilor at Pierburg, to the storytelling café. Further guests have been requested. We will start by showing an interview with Hasan Doğan, an activist in the Ford strike.
  • 6:45 p.m.: Closing of the event

Registration: https://www.rosalux.de/veranstaltung/es_detail/X6FIX/gelingende-und-misslingende-solidarisierungen?cHash=1df5fa09af6432be1dbc6eab5667037a

Cooperation partners: Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (federal government and North Rhine-Westphalia), Otto Brenner Foundation, Hans Böckler Foundation, Human Dignity and the World of Work Foundation, IG Metall (Executive Board Department Migration and Participation and Düsseldorf-Neuss Office), Institute for Social Movements in Bochum and the German Labor History Association.

The statements in wording

#1 Nuria Cafaro, historian

"In recent decades, the relevance of the "wildcat" strikes of 1973 has been emphasized and kept alive primarily by migrant self-organizations and in leftist, above all factory interventionist, memory culture. The fact that they are finally being remembered and reappraised more broadly today is a step forward that is primarily due to the vehemence of activists. But it is also due to the fact that they have a special topicality today: as for example in today's feminist strikes, the disputes about working and living conditions of migrants, inflation or the increasing strike activity.

The fact that these strikes, 50 years later, are now being researched and also dealt with by the trade unions - which play an ambivalent role in German migration history and migrant strikes - is an important step in dealing with and appreciating the labor struggles. Strikes like those at Pierburg, Hella and Ford have long been more than the events themselves. They made migrants visible as political subjects in the broader public for the first time and were thus always a point of reference for migrant self-organization.
Remembering the strikes is significant not only because migrant resistance has not yet been given a place in public historical culture, but also because we can learn from them in many ways - if we want to do scholarly work on movement history, if we want to do union work, if we want to strike, if we want to impose smarter migration policies on this country."

Nuria Cafaro studied philosophy, history and education and is doing her PhD at the University of Cologne on labor struggles in Italy, France and West Germany around 1968. She works at the Cologne Women's History Association on the self-organization of migrant women, organizes city tours on the history of women's migration and is active in educational work on trade union and migration history. Her work also focuses on the history of the Italian workers' movement and migrant protest in the Federal Republic of Germany, especially the 1973 Ford strike in Cologne.

#2 Witich Rossmann, Trade unionist

The "Wild Ford Strike 1973", planned as a "spontaneous work stoppage" for cost-of-living increases and more humane work on the assembly line, which the Ford management refused for a long time, became an uprising of Turkish migrant workers, which made their living and working conditions exemplary for the "guest workers". As an uprising, it not only became topic No. 1 in all media, but at the same time also a signal of awakening of self-confident migrants.

According to my research, I assume that we are not dealing with a "wildcat" strike, but with two social movements: a spontaneous work stoppage along the lines of trade union negotiation logic, planned by trade union shop stewards, and a migrant movement that followed the logic of the uprising. Despite the disastrous ending, the migrant uprising produced multiple, lasting changes: It forced all actors to take a new view of the "guest worker question" and how to deal with migrant workers.

In the Ford strike, the grievances were addressed confidently but still unsuccessfully. Subsequently, the migrant workers developed into committed fighters in the unions. Together, they fought for better working conditions in Baden-Württemberg as early as October 1973, for six weeks' vacation in the 1979/80 steel strike and for the 35-hour week in 1984, and they are committed to their work as works and supervisory council members, shop stewards and union secretaries.

Witich Rossmann is a political scientist and long-serving trade union secretary at IG Metall. He is currently chairman of the DGB Cologne/Bonn.

#3 Peter Bach, Contemporary witness

"In 1973, there were over 2.5 million migrant workers in Germany, derided as "guest workers." Many of them had been working here as "guests" for well over ten years, doing the hardest work for the lowest wages, ruining their health and living in cramped, often inhumane housing.

There had already been many small acts of resistance, but in 1973 tens of thousands went on strike in many factories to put an end to this injustice and disrespect. The women at Hella and Pierburg and the factory squatters at Ford made history.

The actions had a great impact: the migrants gained respect and thus withdrew social acceptance from their discrimination. Management and unions were forced to change their strategy. This was well expressed by a group of young "migrant" industrial foremen when, 25 years later, they said to participants in the 73 strike: "Without you, we wouldn't be here. The end of the special exploitation of migrants also completely changed the production processes. The Y-Hall was unrecognizable after 25 years.

We can learn from this that the world only changes to our advantage if we help it along.

I am very happy about the interest, especially of the grandchildren of those who were on strike at that time, to learn more about the situation at that time, but also about the sovereignty of the young migrant scientists to ask questions anew, to lure machos out of their reserve and to gain new facets from the history of the strike. The 50th has become another real highlight for me as an ex-strike participant."

Peter Bach worked at Ford at the time and supported the strike. Today, he is involved in a variety of activities, including the Herkesin Meydanı - Platz für Alle initiative and the Cologne-Mülheim History Workshop.

#4 Peter Birke, historian

"In the 1973 work stoppages, which were only a culmination of previous struggles, something emerged that had already existed for a long time: everyday resistance against unhealthy, poorly paid work, against authoritarian masters, and generally against violations of dignity.

This is also true for the strikes, which were mainly carried out by migrants. It can be said that from the first day of "guest work", there were strikes and protests. In the "migrant" strikes, two aspects are special, which were not equally significant for all other workers at that time (and today): The strikers always also resist the precariousness of the "guest worker regime" and racism in German society. That is why they are so important for an emancipatory culture of remembrance.

The strikes at Pierburg and Ford are in this respect siblings of the current struggles, where today workers take action against exploitation, even without first asking permission from an institution. And perhaps they are also siblings of the protests against the murder of Nahel in France this summer.

After the 1973 strikes, things improved: for those who were not dismissed, there were more migrants in the works council and union. For those who stayed in the country, there were better legal conditions over time. If you look at how people are sometimes treated at work who come to Germany today, however, you will find a lot of similarities with what people were offered at Pierburg or Ford back then.

That's another reason why it's important to keep the memory alive, as DOMiD and many others are trying to do!"

Peter Birke is a historian and research associate at the Sociological Research Institute in Göttingen.

#5 Simon Goeke, historian

The migrant strikes at Ford in Cologne-Niehl, at Pierburg in Neuss, at Hella in Lippstadt and elsewhere remain unforgettable for various reasons. In the summer of 1973, it became clear that the immigrants had never come to terms with their intended role as grateful and exploitable migrant workers. Already at the beginning of the recruitment, migrants resisted discrimination and unacceptable working and living conditions. The 1973 work stoppages were the turning point at which this resistance could no longer be ignored. Even if not all of these struggles were won, the protagonists of the strikes achieved a lot. The trade union commitment of and for migrants increased again, additional breaks on the assembly line were included in the collective agreement, the discriminatory light wage groups for women were successfully fought for the first time, the annual leave could also be taken consecutively ...
The migrant workers fought against racism, against patriarchy and against discrimination as workers and achieved progress for all - in the company and in society.

Historian Simon Goeke works as a research assistant for migration studies and curator at the Munich City Museum. In his doctoral thesis entitled "Wir sind alle Fremdarbeiter!" (We are all foreign workers!), published in 2020, he examines the migrant struggles of the 1960s and 1970s in the Federal Republic and their connections to the social movements and the trade unions.

Now available as E-Book: DOMiD Publication on the Ford strike 1973

"Guest workers" on strike - The work stoppage at Ford Cologne in August 1973

By Jörg Huwer in the "Edition DOMiD"

DOMiD published on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the so-called "Ford strike" the book "Gastarbeiter" im Streik - Die Arbeitsniederlegung bei Ford Köln im August 1973 by Jörg Huwer. The author vividly and impressively describes the course of events and the background to the work stoppage. For the first time, the context of the strike is thus clearly shown, beyond all previous patterns of interpretation. The print publication has long been out of print, but with the kind permission of the author we can make the book available free of charge as a PDF (in German language only).

E-Book download

(Short registration required)

Short radio play by Mesut Bayraktar: "When the dam breaks. 50 years of strike at Ford in Cologne".

"I am Nazim. But you can also call me Erkan, Deniz or Ali" - a voice from the spontaneous strike at Ford in Cologne tells of the six days in the summer of 1973, from August 24 to 30. The workers in the Y-hall, final assembly, stop being so-called guest workers. The Federal Republic sees that the recruited workers are human beings.

The text is taken from the play "Gastarbeiter-Monologe" (author: Mesut Bayraktar). The author rewrote it accordingly for the short radio play. More infos here.


No part of this work may be reproduced in any form or processed, duplicated or distributed using electronic systems without permission of the author. Here with kind permission of the author.

DOMiD-Interview with contemporary witness: Mitat Özdemir on the 1973 Ford strike

german | 4 min | 2023 | Interview (excerpt) by Bengü Kocatürk-Schuster | Source: DOMiD

Music Video Clip "1973 Grevi" (Nazım Sabuncu)

Copyright: Nazım Sabuncu. Link to the Single: https://ditto.fm/1973-grevi

Film about Ford strike 1973: "This spontaneous work stoppage was not planned"

Team: Thomas Giefer, Yüksel Uğurlu, Klaus Baumgarten | German | 43 min | 1982 | Source: labournet.tv

Eyewitness in video: Emine Orhanoğlu reports on the strike at Pierburg, 1973

german | 34 min | 2023 | Team: Linda Gao-Lenders, Irem Adıgüzel, Laura R. Beische | Source: fake (Uni Köln)

Video: Pierburg "Their fight is our fight" (excerpt)

german | 49 min | 1974. directed by Edith Schmidt/David Wittenberg. Source: labournet.tv

Archival materials


  • Interviews on the 1973 strikes at Nobel, Lippstadt, Karmann, Neupack, Feuerbach and others.
  • Written material (including pamphlets), event materials and publications, occasional AV media.
  • Photographs on the Pierburg strike (Neuss) and occasionally on the Ford strike.

In other archives:

  • Photos of the Ford strike by Christian Dalchow/Kölnische Rundschau at Greven Digital Archive
  • Photos of the Ford strike by Gernot Huber at laif

Witness of the strikes? Contemporary witnesses? Objects?

You were present during the strikes and still have souvenirs from those days? You would like to tell us your story? Please feel free to contact us.

Online-ressources (excerpt) (German only)

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