Trade Unionism in Recession

By Duncan Gallie; Roger Penn et al. | Go to book overview

8
Trade Unionism in a Hostile Environment: An Account of Attempts to Organize the North Sea Off-Shore Oil Industry Between 1970 and 1990

JOHN SEWEL AND ROGER PENN


1. INTRODUCTION

The North Sea off-shore oil industry provides a relatively rare opportunity for examining the history of trade union organization in a new industry. Indeed, one of the reasons for choosing Aberdeen as one of the six localities for the SCELI research was that it served as the main on-shore base for the North Sea oil industry in Britain. The economic fortunes of the city itself, and much of the surrounding area, have been closely linked to oil since the pace of exploration quickened in the 1970s. This chapter looks at the development of trade unionism in this emergent industry since 1970 in the context of both economic and political change. In so doing, it also represents an implicit comparison with the challenges faced by trade unionism in Rochdale during the 1980s (see the previous chapter) and with those experienced in Swindon (see Chapter 3).

The off-shore oil industry has a number of distinctive charateristics that have helped shape the history of trade unionism. First, all oilfields go through a cycle of exploration, development, production, and eventual abandonment. Very different activities are associated with each stage in the cycle. During the exploration phase the dominant activity is drilling. Within the production phases the main emphasis is on controlling and monitoring the flow of oil. Within a larger oil province, a number of individual fields will be at different stages of the overall cycle, and individual field drilling will inevitably take place during the

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