Building an Oil Empire: Labor and Gender Relations in American Company Towns in Libya, 1950s–1970s
This chapter examines the ways in which American oil companies transformed labor relations in Libya between the mid-1950s and the late 1970s. Through an analysis of government sources, corporate and trade union records, newspapers, memoirs, interviews, home videos and Facebook pages, it argues that debates and struggles over labor policies played a crucial role in shaping US–Libyan relations. Clashes and tensions between Americans and Libyans were not limited to trade unions and organized forms of labor protest, but extended to living spaces. By studying the conflicts that emerged around oil camps and company towns, this chapter sheds new light on the social history of labor in the oil industry. It argues that US oil companies reproduced the gender, class and racial hierarchies that characterized other American camps across the globe, based on racial and ethnic segregation, and the elevation of white women to symbols and agents of America’s corporate civilizing mission. It thus contributes to an understanding of the experience of the expatriate workforce, which has not received much scholarly attention, but was crucial in shaping the global oil industry during the twentieth century. While most studies of oil towns have focused on the decades preceding the rise of oil nationalism, this chapter investigates the ways in which the nationalization of Libya’s oil resources in the early 1970s transformed labor relations and everyday life in company towns.