chapter  10
32 Pages

‘Colonial’ industry and ‘modern’ manufacturing: opportunities for labour- intensive growth in Latin America c.1800–1940s

WithCOLIN M . LEWIS

Industry: Descriptions and periodization At the beginning of the twentieth century, the term ‘modern industry’ implied export processing rather than manufacturing, that is capital-intensive firms engaged in mining, meat packing and the like, sectors that served the needs of overseas markets.3 This definition excludes such labour-intensive units of production as colonial obrajes, plantation-based ‘factories’ (producing artefacts and clothing for on-estate consumption), the craft output of Indian village communities, and household handicraft production. Throughout the colonial period and the early nineteenth century, these had been the main suppliers of locallyproduced industrial goods. Mainly concentrated in the Andes and New Spain (Mexico), sweatshops were the prime expression of colonial industry, turning out mainly (woollen) textiles, though occasionally ceramic ware, leather artifacts, and equipment. Their products were widely traded from California to Buenos Aires (Miño Grijalva 1998: 81-2). Largely un-mechanized, reliant on traditional ‘technology’ and capitaland labour-conserving, obrajes could be substantial, integrated production units, sometimes concentrating hundreds of hands – slaves, Indian forced labour and ‘free’ workers – in a single space that combined all stages of the production process. Noting the considerable changes that took place over time, and differences among establishments, Gómez Galvarriato offers a telling description of the workforce:

Obraje workers . . . were generally indebted Indians who were either ‘voluntarily’ or ‘forcefully’ recruited. . . . The workforce often included black slaves, apprentices, and prisoners sent to the obrajes instead of jail. Workers usually lived within the obraje premises and were not allowed to go out until their debts were redeemed. However, there is also evidence of obrajes where at least part of the laborers came in and went out daily.