1967-1974: four turning points

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, social and political changes in West Germany and Greece affected the lives of migrants. Meanwhile, there were four turning points in protests involving Greek migrants. These were the following:

  • the establishment of the dictatorship in Greece in 1967
  • global protests around 1968
  • the wave of strikes in West Germany in 1973
  • and the spread from the early 1970s of protests against the conditions of migrant accommodation halls.

West Germany banned the recruitment of migrant workers in 1973. As a result, it completely blocked the entry of non-Germans who wanted to move to West Germany to work. Still, it conditionally allowed family reunification: family members of migrants already working in West Germany were allowed to move to that country and join them (Stokes, 2022). Moreover, the improving financial condition of Greece meant that a growing number of people moved from Greece to study in West Germany, often supported by their parents (Papadogiannis, 2014).

This period witnessed four turning points in the protests of Southern European migrants in West Germany. The first was the aftermath of the 21 April 1967 coup in Greece, which brought a dictatorship that governed Greece until July 1974. The dictatorship cruelly persecuted its political opponents, who spanned from the Left to the moderate Right. Solidarity committees towards dissidents of the Greek dictatorship soon appeared in several West German cities. They involved Greeks and other migrants fighting against the dictatorships ruling their countries, such as Spaniards (Clarkson, 2015; Christiaens, 2018). They also involved West Germans, usually aligned with the Social Democrats or the Communist Left. Similarly, OEK [Omospondia Ellinikon Koinotiton, the Federation of Greek Communities] in West Germany became one more hotbed of the anti-dictatorial struggle. OEK often collaborated with other migrants and German activists in its action against the dictatorship (Papadogiannis, 2014).

Simultaneously, protests erupted in West Germany as in many other countries around the globe around 1968. Although the aims of those uprisings varied, a core component of most of them was the fight against imperialism, especially the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. These protests did not leave Greek migrants in West Germany unaffected. Greek left-wing students, such as Kostas Papanastasiou, joined teach-ins that the left-wing militants organised in 1968 against the Vietnam War (Papadogiannis, 2014).

The wave of strikes in 1973 was another landmark for Greek migrants participating in protests in West Germany. One that made headlines across West Germany was the strike in Neuss-based automotive supplier Pierburg. Pierburg employed around 3,000 workers, 70% of whom were migrant women from various countries: Greece, Spain, Turkey, Portugal, Italy and Yugoslavia. Despite carrying out arduous tasks, most of those women had been allocated to the low-wage group. As a result, the women earned just 4.70 DM per hour, while their male colleagues earned 6.10 DM for the same work. In June and August 1973, around 2,000 female workers, mostly migrants and some German, launched a strike. The police intervened, often arresting workers on strike. However, the latter finally succeeded in having the low wage group abolished and achieving wage increases of 30 Pfenning for all workers (Bojadzijev, 2012; Goeke, 2020).

From the early 1970s, migrant protests against the conditions of their accommodation kept spreading. For sure, the issue of accommodation had mobilised them already in the 1960s. The fact that male and female spouses often had to stay in different Heime had been a cause for protest among some migrants. Moreover, what also mobilised some migrants was urban renewal projects and some of the hardships that these projects implied particularly for migrant households in inner-city quarters. Against this backdrop, what appeared in the 1970s were squats of buildings, in some of which migrants engaged. Crucially, migrants participated in the first squat in West Germany, namely in Frankfurt Westend in 1970. Subsequently, throughout the 1970s and in the early 1980s, radical West Germans collaborated with some migrants in squatting (Goeke, 2020).

The West German state was often suspicious of migrant mobilisation and growingly targeted whomever it viewed as an ‘extremist’ (Slobodian, 2013). This suspicion explains why it treated the OEK, at least until the early 1980s as an ‘extremist’ group (Adamopoulou, 2022). Thus, it became even more challenging for Greek migrants to get involved in left-wing activity. Meanwhile, in light of growing migrant protest activity, the attitude of trade unions towards migrants changed. Although trade unions initially largely ignored migrants, they gradually took them more seriously into account. As a result, the former developed an ambiguous position towards them: they supported the recruitment ban of 1973 but also demanded measures be taken to ensure that migrant workers integrate into German society (Goeke, 2020).

The manifold collaboration between migrant and West German protestors meant that the music that mobilised Greek migrants became widely known among West German activists and the general public. Such music included the work of composer and prominent left-winger Mikis Theodorakis. The record label Pläne, which was close to the DKP [Deutsche Kommunistische Partei, German Communist Party], produced a record with his music in 1968, having translated the lyrics into German. His life and work, also famous for his fight against the dictatorship in Greece, were also presented in mainstream media, such as the magazine Der Spiegel and the main public television station ARD (Papadogiannis, 2014).


3, 4: Stills from Lefteris Xanthopoulos, film entitled The Greek Community of Heidelberg (1976). Courtesy of Eleni Xanthopoulou.

5: Strike involving Greek and Italian workers. Courtesy of OEK.

6: Greek workers participating in a protest run by IG Metall. Courtesy of OEK.

7: Event run by a solidarity committee against the Greek dictatorship. Courtesy of the Archive of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research.

8: Event ‘The death of Fascism is the life of Greece’. Courtesy of the Archive of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research.

9: Event ‘Freedom for Greece’. Courtesy of the Archive of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research.

10: Event ‘No to Fascism’. Courtesy of the Archive of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research.

11: Solidarity week for the struggle of Greek students against the dictatorship. Courtesy of Archive of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research.

12: Event ‘The case of Wallraff’. Courtesy of the Archive of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research.

13: Event ‘Fascicm in Greece! Italy? Germany?’. Courtesy of the Archive of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research.