The Petroleum Industry
One of the least successful of the major CIO organizing campaigns was that conducted in the petroleum industry. On several occasions between 1936 and 1941, considerable publicity was given to attempts to unionize the oil workers. Each time these efforts came largely to nothing; they petered out against the resistance put up by the industry. By the end of 1941, the major producers were still operating on a nonunion basis, and the union had little more than a foothold among the million or so workers employed in the production, transportation, refining, and marketing of oil.
The union involved in these abortive campaigns was the International Association of Oil Field, Gas Well and Refinery Workers' Union, a name later simplified to the Oil Workers' International Union. This organization had been chartered by the American Federation of Labor in 1918, and in 1921 attained a membership of almost 25,000, mainly in California. Refusal of the oil companies to continue bargaining led to a progressive decline in strength, until a low of 400 members was reached in 1932, in the depths of the depression. 1
In the oil industry, as in many others, the National Industrial Recovery Act provided an impetus to organization. The Petroleum Labor Policy Board, established under the Petroleum Code, investigated numerous complaints of discrimination against union men and certified the union as collective bargaining representative after elections or payroll checks. "Courageously [it] outlawed many a company union and upheld the right of workers to join the union. Many OWIU locals gained representation through elections held by this board in 1934-35." 2 With the help of this board, and through energetic organizing efforts, the Oil Workers' Union made rapid headway. The 1934 convention, the first since 1926, was attended by 152 delegates from 32 locals. It came on the heels of the most successful coup the union had achieved in all the years of its existence: the negotiation of a national agreement with the Sinclair-Consolidated Oil Corporation, covering about 10,000 men, and providing for the check-off of union dues, vaca