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‘Labor Politics in the Oil Industry: New Historical







Elisabetta Bini





The importance of labor in the history of national and international oil politics has been largely overlooked by scholars. Yet, as recent events in Libya, Algeria and Nigeria show, oil workers play (and have played) a crucial role in blocking or rederecting the flow of oil, while labor policies have often been central in defining relations between international oil companies and oil-producing states.This international conference aims at analyzing the role labor has had in transforming oil politics during the 20th century, particularly its second half. The decades that run from the 1950s to the 1990s are by now recognized as crucial in changing the relationship between oil producing and oil consuming countries. However, scholars have focused their attention mostly on diplomatic relations and high politics or on the economic strategies carried out by single oil firms. With few exceptions, the ways in which labor relations, workers and trade unions contributed to redefine oil politics has received but scant attention.


Some of the questions this conference aims to address are:


1. What role have workers and trade unions played in the emergence and consolidation of oil nationalism, the nationalization of oil resources, and the transformation of relations between oil producing and oil consuming countries?


2. What has been the relationship between oil workers, trade unions and organizations such as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the International Labor Organization (ILO), and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)?


3. What has been the relationship (in terms of contacts, influences, or forms of struggle) between trade unions and, more generally, workers in oil producing and oil consuming countries?


4. How have workers and trade unions influenced national ideas and forms of democracy, authoritarianism, rights, welfare, and sovereignty in oil producing countries? Is the notion of a “resource curse” still a useful concept in shaping rights or lack thereof?


5. How have international oil firms shaped labor relations in oil producing countries, and how have they been affected by the action of workers and trade unions?


6. How does a history of oil workers and trade unions intersect more broadly with the history of decolonization, the crisis of the so-called Golden Age, the rise of neoliberalism, and the end of the Cold War?


This international conference is part of the FIRB (Basic Research Investment Fund) project "Engines of Growth: For a Global History of the Conflict Between Renewable, Fossil, and Fissile Energies (1972-1992)" (, based at the Universities of Padua and Venice, Ca’ Foscari, and is organized in partnership with the International Institute of Social History (IISH) and the Department of Humanities of the University of Trieste.


Please send a paper proposal of no more than 300 words along with a short CV (no more than 2 pages) to Elisabetta Bini ( and Francesco Petrini ( by April 15, 2014.


The conference language will be English. Travel expenses will be covered and accommodation will be provided.


Organizing Committee: Touraj Atabaki (International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam), Duccio Basosi (University of Venice, Ca’ Foscari), Elisabetta Bini (University of Trieste), Giuliano Garavini (University of Padua), Francesco Petrini (University of Padua), Massimiliano Trentin (University of Bologna).


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