Germans and Gastarbeiter: A Study of Prejudice

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Glynn Cochrane


Guest workers, Minority groups, Guetersloh (Germany), German response

Subject Categories



Guest workers (Gastarbeiters) are labor migrants to Germany, primarily from the countries of the Mediterranean littoral. They come alone, usually without language or occupational skills to a nation that does not consider itself a land for immigration. The come under contract to a German employer who is responsible for their general care. In 1972, there were 2,352,392 Gastarbeiter registered in Germany. This does not include dependants that follow or illegal immigrants. Gastarbeiter come to Germany as "labor."

German society numbers about 62,000,000 people who share a common language and culture. There are only a few small minority groups in certain border areas. However, Germany has historically been a much divided nation with many small political units. Remnants of these divisions are still found in local dialects and loyalties that can be very strong. Within German society there is discrimination and tension based on accent and place of origin. Recent history saw such tensions exacerbated into the virtual annihilation of a minority group.

The problem addressed in this paper is how the Germans today are responding to this minority presence, the Gastarbeiter.

A multifaceted study was undertaken to address this problem. German society was studied with a concern for characteristics that would influence response to labor migrants. Gastarbeiter as a national phenomenon were examined to provide background and perspective for a more intensive local study. A small city in Westfalen, Guetersloh, was the locus for this work. German knowledge, understanding and reaction were examined. The Gastarbeiter themselves in Guetersloh were studied. In this way, the interaction of the two, and especially the way German society gives meaning to the Gastarbeiter presence could be explored.

The results of this study were a thorough understanding of the Gastarbeiter situation in Guetersloh and the complex German response to these labor migrants. The findings are that German society is willing to tolerate the Gastarbeiter as workers, a mobile labor force, especially since the Gastarbeiter enter the lowest levels of the work force and release Germans to rise in income and work position. German society is not willing to look upon these migrants as additions to German society to be integrated into the fabric of that culture. The response to Gastarbeiter and the meaning that is given to them leaves no other conclusion.


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