Oil Industry Unions

It is commonly assumed that industrial unions have never existed in Texas, let alone in the oil industry. This is not the case. Labor activism has a long history in Texas, especially in the oil refining and processing industries.

By the end of World War II almost 100 percent of Texas refineries were unionized, most located along the Gulf Coast. Some refineries had their own unions. Some were represented by a network of regional organizations. The largest oil industry union in the United States was the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (OCAWU).

Although unions were generally unpopular in West Texas, the OCAWU launched almost 100 campaigns in the region between 1920 and 1990. The OCAWU held elections and mediated workplace safety disputes.

 

 

In the map below, I use Goggle Maps to map patterns of OCAWU organizing in the Permian Basin. Each pin represents an oil worker willing to give their name and address to the OCAWU. Because street addresses have changed, the map contains many errors, however it begins to give a sense of the geographic scope of OCAWU efforts, as well as the spread of refinery and oil processing efforts throughout the region after 1945.

 

 

In its final form, this map will use historic maps, city directory data and union records that detail both the location of union plants and the home addresses of union members to show connections between income, race, and union membership among West Texas oil workers. It includes the location of all oil pipeline and processing companies in West Texas and tracks the job titles and addresses of oil workers who signed union cards from 1930-1990.

A link to the work-in-progress map can be found at: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1yVvxkq3K2B8j5CaXTlmHbnNYPmM&usp=sharing

Union membership in West Texas was much lower than in the Texas refining centers along the Gulf. While this was due to a combination of factors, there is probably some correlation between oil industry salaries and lack of union membership. In the map below, I use data from the Mid Continent Oil and Gas Association to show average 1965 industry salaries by county. Salaries were comparatively very high that year in the Permian Basin.

 

 


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