"Building the Earth": Labor Politics, Technopolitics, and Tapline in Lebanon, 1950-1964
Author(s)Cuyler, Zachary Davis
Middle East; Research
Middle Eastern studies
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This project examines the history of the Aramco-owned Trans-Arabian Pipeline, or Tapline, focusing particularly on the history of its operations in Lebanon and labor activism by its Lebanese employees between 1950 and 1964. It applies the framework Timothy Mitchell develops in Carbon Democracy - entailing the analysis of the "chokepoints" created by energy infrastructure - to the particular case of Tapline in Lebanon, while supplementing Mitchell's "technopolitical" theoretical framework with attention to working conditions at Tapline and the particular the demands they made on their American employers. It therefore engages with literature on moral economy, class-formation, and labor politics in colonial and post-colonial settings.
My research revolves primarily around Tapline's management strategies, the Tapline workplace as experienced by its Lebanese employees, Tapline's vulnerabilities to strike action and workers' mobilization, and Lebanese Tapline employees' unionization and participation in a mass strike in 1964. Borrowing from Frederick Cooper's analysis of labor activism in colonial West Africa, I argue that Lebanese Tapline workers exploited Tapline's "chokepoints" to force the company to live up to its promises of meritocracy and welfare for its employees, and thus tried to improve their position within the status quo of their workplace rather than radically alter it.
This project is based on a diverse body of primary and secondary sources. Primary sources include interviews with the former head of the Tapline Laborers' Syndicate, internal documents from Aramco and Tapline, the Pipeline Periscope, an in-house magazine produced by the company for distribution to employees, coverage of Tapline and its employees' labor activism from the Lebanese press, and declassified US government documents. It aims to bring the literatures on the politics of labor and technopolitics into a productive dialogue. It also seeks to develop the historical literature on Tapline, which has received only fragmentary academic attention.
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