White-Collar Wildcatters and Wildcat Strikes: Oil Experts, Global Contracts, and the Transformation of Labor in Postwar Houston
This essay shows how oilfield services companies—which sold logistics, engineering, and resource management services to oilfields worldwide—undermined the burgeoning labor movement in Houston, Texas, between 1945 and 1961. At the dawn of the postwar era, the United States’ premier oil city, Houston, seemed to be moving into a labor-led political future with the city’s unions stronger than ever. African-American and Latino Houstonians were also making unprecedented gains in organizing against racism in the oil industry. Oilfield services executives responded to this upsurge in labor activity by outsourcing oil refineries abroad, undermining strong refinery unions, and replacing manufacturing workers with professional and contract employees exempt from labor legislation. This essay argues these strategies reduced domestic workers’ power while promoting a new ideology of American imperialism that imagined the US as a manager of integrated global production rather than as a producer or exporter in its own right.