Cover of "Oil!"

Cover of Oil!

Oil! by Upton Sinclair, published in 1927, is a novel about the oil industry in California between the years 1915 and 1925, but it is so much more. I started reading it because I am interested in California history and because I wanted to compare oil-producing practices then with fracking now. More on that in another post. The version of the book I read is available used at Amazon.com for $.01 plus shipping. Oil producers then and big business probably now were engaged in political corruption at the local, state and national levels. I gained new knowledge and a different perspective on the Teapot Dome scandal of the Harding administration.

Much of the book is devoted to telling the story of attempted unionization of oil workers. Employers now and then opposed unions because they believed paying a decent wage would decrease their profits and their freedom to run their businesses any way they chose. No thought was given to the freedom of workers to live a decent life. One hundred years after the events portrayed in the book, employers continue to wage war against their employees’ right to form and join a union.

Even more eye-opening is Sinclair’s view about the Red Scare of the period. He believed that Capitalism opposed Communism because Communism represented workers’ democracy, which big business would not tolerate. If you accept Sinclair’s view, then the war against Communism was an unnecessary one.