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Keywords:

  • labor;
  • marginality;
  • drug dependency;
  • Louisiana;
  • petroleum industry

Abstract

In southern Louisiana, supplying a workforce for the offshore oil and gas industry's least desirable jobs requires manipulation of non-market forces that shape access to labor. Specifically, a labor camp system, evolving since the late 1970s, recruits and deploys disempowered workers (or “bodies”) to fulfill the manual labor needs of a wide variety of oil and gas companies—a process that generates profits for the individuals who own labor camps while reproducing the continuities between work and poverty for the marginalized underclass of US cities. This essay explores the perpetuation of the camp system, arguing that it is not company desires for cost-saving mechanisms but demands for a tractable workforce that explain the primary relationships between camp workers, managers and owners, on the one hand, and oil company management, on the other. Understandings of how social capital, cultural capital and drug dependency factor into employment at one camp provide key insights into the anatomy of the labor camp system.