OCAW was formed on March 4, 1955, when merger occurred between the Oil Workers International Union and the United Gas, Coke and Chemical Workers of America. There were three main historical themes or struggles that stood out in the histories of the two predecessor unions which eventually merged to form the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union.  The first was the struggle for an industrial union; the second was the struggle for a national union; and the third was the struggle for a democratic organization.  These struggles were long and hard fought, sometimes life and death battles, which involved tremendous sacrifices on the part of our union brothers and sisters. The timeline below shows significant events in OCAW’s history.

1899 The International Brotherhood of Oil and Gas Well Workers was formed in the oil fields in Ohio and spread to Pennsylvania and California. It was forced out of existence by Standard Oil.

1905 The AFL chartered the Guffey Oil and Gas Well Workers Local in Beaumont, Texas and they led the first large scale, successful strike in the oil industry. Unions fought for wage increases, but not for recognition.
1913 The miners of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, owned by John Rockefeller, struck for recognition, an 8-hour day, and a 10% raise. They were evicted from company-owned shacks and lived in a tent colony for the winter. In 1914, Rockefeller-controlled militia swept through the camps, killing 33 and injuring 100 people. This event ushered in an era of company unionism first in oil, then in other industries.

1918 The AFL chartered the International Association of Oil Field, Gas Well and Refinery Workers of America.

1933 The United Gas, Coke and Chemical Workers was founded and became a part of the United Mine Workers District 50 in 1935.

1935 The President of the International Association of Oil Field Workers helped organized the CIO and the union was expelled from the AFL in 1936.

1936 The CIO chartered the International Association of Oil Field, Gas Well and Refinery Workers of America.

1936 A reform caucus of the Oil Field, Gas Well and Refinery Workers created a rank-and-file Executive Board.

1937 The union changed its name to the Oil Workers International Union.

1942 The CIO chartered the United Gas, Coke and Chemical Workers Union as a separate union.

1945 First nationwide strike of the OWIU. The OWIU gained leadership within the industry in terms of setting the pattern on wages, hours, and working conditions.

1948 Oil Workers International Union charters first Canadian local union in Clarkson, Ontario.

1955 The Oil Workers International Union and the United Gas, Coke and Chemical Workers Union merged to form the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union.

1956 OCAW’s first convention.

1965 Oil bargaining policy program established common termination dates. It took four years to get 400 oil industry contracts lined up on the common date.

1967 OCAW passes convention resolution on need for community/labor coalitions. Such coalitions were instrumental in helping secure passage of OSHA.

1969 Second nationwide strike in the oil industry over non-contributory pensions.

1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act passed. OCAW’s role in the early days of OSHA established the union as a strong advocate for worker health and safety.

1973 Nationwide strike and boycott of Shell Oil over health and safety. First major corporate campaign in U.S. labor history.

1974 Karen Silkwood, OCAW member, killed. Silkwood attempted to expose health and safety violations at the Cimarron Kerr-McGee facility.

1980 Third nationwide strike in the oil industry.

1980 Canadian OCAW membership establishes its own union, the Energy and Chemical Workers Union of Canada.

1984 BASF lockout at Geismar begins. Is 8th BASF lockout in a decade.

1987 OCAW receives a five-year multi-million dollar grant to develop a model health and safety training program for workers.

1989 Longest lockout in U.S. labor history ends after 51/2 years at BASF/ Geismar, Louisiana. Three-year agreement ratified.

1989 OCAW and Physicians for a National Health Program join forces to agitate for a single-payer national health plan for all Americans. OCAW/PNHP activity helps shape and sharpen the debate on the issue.

1991 OCAW convention passes resolution calling for “A New Social, Political, and Economic Agenda” which sets goals for the 1990s, including national health care, a Labor Party alternative, environmental protection, a Superfund for Workers, and international trade unionism.

1992 American Home Products settles with OCAW over plant closing at Elkhart; pays $24 million to avoid trial.

1993 National Women’s Conference held.

1994 OCAW Convention passes Resolution on Organizing and undertakes to fund, develop, and implement a successful program.

1995 AFL-CIO undergoes rare leadership contest and elects new President; OCAW regains seat on Executive Council.

1996 Founding Convention for U.S. Labor Party held in Cleveland, Ohio.

1997 Negotiation of National Oil Bargaining extension settlement with enforceable successorship language.

1998 Executive Board of OCAW and UPIU vote to proceed to merger convention.