The Marxist Perspective on the Oil Industry

Oil has been and will continue to be a necessary product to sustain our society. Millions of workers have worked to provide us with oil that propels our vehicles and produces energy. But oil is an industry, with those who benefit from it, and those who lack those benefits. Workers in the oil industry are not treated fairly- they face the dangers of being injured or killed while working. In other countries such as Iran, they lack unions and governmental benefits that will protect them. The United States has worked overseas to retrieve oil from other countries, thus implementing the act of imperialism in the modern-day. Workers in the oil industries are treated as commodities which causes unsafe conditions for the workers, in addition to companies imperializing countries to gain new commodities.

According to Deloitte Insights, 70% of jobs lost during COVID in 2020 in the oil industry will not be given back to the workers in the next year. Currently, many workers are fearing their job security with the numerous layoffs, totaling over to more than 100k jobs lost. In addition to their fears of job security, workers also have the fear of safety. About 500 workers were killed while working in oil and gas extraction over a span of four years. Four out of ten workers killed were because of a vehicular accident. They are often overworked and discouraged to report symptoms of sickness. Overworking comes with mental and physical fatigue. Marx and Engels predicted that with people being overworked, it would result in an inevitable revolt. Their writings prove to become a reality in June 2020, workers from 60 companies, among those who were oil drilling, in Iran had a strike demanding higher wages and better contracts. The workers lacked the basic employee benefits, especially in wages because they were making less than $200 US dollars than the average worker. 

According to Marx and Engels, work and workers themselves become commodities in addition to the products of oil and gas. Work then becomes a commodity because workers, of course, use their labor in exchange for wages. (251) But at what cost? As previously stated, the workload that oil industry workers come with negative consequences, such as fatigue and risk of injuries. Therefore, worker unions have to be established in order to protect the workers. The largest industrial union in the US is the United Steelworkers which was formed in 2005. Numerous unions, such as the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers, have been formed but later dissolved.

There is rarely a sight of unions in developing countries outside of the US. In Iran, independent trade unions have been banned and trade unionists have been imprisoned for attempting to assemble. It should be noted that a majority of oil drilling is in the countries of the Middle East, including Iran. Therefore, the workers have many fears of being underpaid, overworked, and exploited with the lack of unions. Marx and Engels would view this aspect very negatively. They believe that unions are a great way to utilize a connection between workers in different localities (252). The lack of unions results in extreme exploitation of the workers. Not only are the workers exploited in their labors, but forces them to continue being lower and middle class, unable to rise up. With employment comes governmental benefits, such as medical care, and the lack of those benefits ensures that they will not receive the adequate care they need through the fatigue they have after being overworked. 

Oil workers being treated as commodities is a danger to them. They face serious dangers while working. The US also continues imperializing other countries in order to gain the commodity of oil. Marx would see solutions to these problems as workers being able to have the freedom to unionize and the laborers providing full and fair benefits to their workers. With workers being able to communicate with each other, they can understand how their place of employment treats, pays and protects their workers. If they see something unjust and unfair, they are able to retaliate and band together to fight for better working conditions.

Works Cited:

  1.  Dickson, Duane et al. 2020 The future of work in oil, gas and chemicals. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/oil-and-gas/future-of-work-oil-and-gas-chemicals.html
  2.  History of the Oil Workers. United Steelworkers International Union, AFL-CIO, CLCC. https://www.usw5.org/index.cfm?zone=/unionactive/view_page.cfm&page=History20of20the20Oil20Workers
  3.  Ranjana K. Mehta, Alec Smith, Jason P. Williams, S. Camille Peres & Farzan Sasangohar. 2019. Investigating Fatigue in Offshore Drilling Workers: A Qualitative Data Analysis of Interviews. IISE
  4.  Abadi,  Mehrnoush Cheragh. 2017. Iranian workers continue to struggle for independent trade unions. https://www.equaltimes.org/iranian-workers-continue-to?lang=en#.YXOGuRrMJyx
  5.  2021. Oil And Petrochemical Workers On Strike In 60 Companies In Iran. Iran International. https://old.iranintl.com/en/iran/oil-and-petrochemical-workers-strike-60-companies-iran
  6.  Oil and Gas Extraction Overview. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. https://www.osha.gov/oil-and-gas-extraction.

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