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Company Towns in the Americas

Company Towns in the Americas: Landscape, Power, and Working-Class Communities

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 236
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  • Book Info
    Company Towns in the Americas
    Book Description:

    Company towns were the spatial manifestation of a social ideology and an economic rationale. The contributors to this volume show how national politics, social protest, and local culture transformed those founding ideologies by examining the histories of company towns in six countries: Argentina (Firmat), Brazil (Volta Redonda, Santos, Fordlândia), Canada (Sudbury), Chile (El Salvador), Mexico (Santa Rosa, Río Blanco), and the United States (Anaconda, Kellogg, and Sunflower City). Company towns across the Americas played similar economic and social roles. They advanced the frontiers of industrial capitalism and became powerful symbols of modernity. They expanded national economies by supporting extractive industries on thinly settled frontiers and, as a result, brought more land, natural resources, and people under the control of corporations. U.S. multinational companies exported ideas about work discipline, race, and gender to Latin America as they established company towns there to extend their economic reach. Employers indeed shaped social relations in these company towns through education, welfare, and leisure programs, but these essays also show how working-class communities reshaped these programs to serve their needs. The editors' introduction and a theoretical essay by labor geographer Andrew Herod provide the context for the case studies and illuminate how the company town serves as a window into both the comparative and transnational histories of labor under industrial capitalism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-3755-5
    Subjects: Population Studies, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)

    Interdisciplinary, collaborative, transnational — for some time now scholars from across the academy have called for work that takes these concepts seriously. Company Towns in the Americas is a rare collective work that heeds this call and provides the reader with a group of truly collaborative, transnational, interdisciplinary studies. Equally important, the authors and editors have taken seriously the call for a new “American” studies, one that seeks to investigate all of the Americas — from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego — in a comparative framework. With studies that range from Argentina to Canada across the length of the twentieth century this...

    (pp. xiii-xv)
  6. [Map]
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
    (pp. 1-20)

    The company town, a planned community owned or controlled by a single company, has symbolized the power of industrial capitalism to exploit natural resources and transform society both in its vast ambition and its remarkable futility. It has represented the ambitions of industrialists and social reformers to transform working-class culture and impose work habits that could increase labor productivity and diminish social conflict. It has embodied the vision of architects and urban planners for new spaces of human habitation that promised — but not necessarily accomplished — improvements in living conditions for working families in material, social, and spiritual terms. Company towns...

  8. CHAPTER ONE Social Engineering through Spatial Engineering: Company Towns and the Geographical Imagination.
    (pp. 21-44)

    Company towns are the product of their designers’ hope that shaping the built environment in particular ways will allow them to further their political, economic, and cultural goals, whether these be exerting greater control over their labor force, ensuring the development of particular types of industrial relations, or, perhaps more altruistically, providing their workers with better housing than they might otherwise be able to secure. Company towns are, then, an attempt to put “social thought in three dimensions,” as Robert Fishman has termed it.¹ They are a concrete example of what I am here calling “spatial engineering” — the deliberate manipulation...

  9. CHAPTER TWO From Company Towns to Union Towns: Textile Workers and the Revolutionary State in Mexico.
    (pp. 45-67)

    Company towns have existed throughout the world where profitable business opportunities have required the locating of people in isolated and unpopulated areas. Because it is costly to relocate workers and provide their living facilities, this only happens when the nature of the business involves the exploitation of natural resources in distant and vacant areas. Normally these types of ventures are related to mining, agriculture, or forestry. However, in Mexico, company towns were also prevalent in manufacturing enterprises during the nineteenth century. This gave Mexico’s industrialization and capital-labor relations distinctive features that are well worth analyzing.

    Mexico had a mechanized textile...

  10. CHAPTER THREE The Port and the City of Santos: A Century-Long Duality.
    (pp. 68-90)

    On the eve of World War I, the city of Santos was known as the “Brazilian Barcelona” because of the uncontested hegemony of anarchists in the local labor movement. Between World War II and the military coup in 1964, Santos became known as the “Brazilian Moscow” and its harbor as the “Red Port” because of the strong presence of Communists in unions and the city’s politics. The port workers took pride in these epithets. They were the bedrock of Santos’s working class with an emblematic influence on national politics. The special connection between port and city played an important role...

  11. CHAPTER FOUR Whitened and Enlightened: The Ford Motor Company and Racial Engineering in the Brazilian Amazon.
    (pp. 91-110)

    A look at the world of the Ford Motor Company in the decades after World War I reveals just how thoroughly the company had been able to create what it described as an “empire.” The war had, of course, played a massive role in this, spreading not just Ford’s products and production methods across the globe, but also those of the United States. As Ford workplaces appeared around the world — assembly shops, manufacturing plants, and car dealers — so too did the residential areas Henry Ford himself fantasized would one day include all nonfarm workers: “Ford towns,” as they came to...

  12. CHAPTER FIVE The Making of a Federal Company Town: Sunflower Village, Kansas.
    (pp. 111-133)

    Company towns in the United States in the twentieth century possessed the same fundamental purpose as others throughout the Americas: to keep workers near their jobs so as to maximize labor-cost effectiveness. As with company towns elsewhere, they exhibited tight mechanisms of social control and provided only limited opportunities for employees to improve their conditions. However, unlike their pan-American cousins, company towns in the United States were predominantly private, with little to no government oversight or even church paternalism. This pattern changed, however, with the Great Depression and World War II. A different company town landscape emerged because of the...

  13. CHAPTER SIX Glory Days No More: Catholic Paternalism and Labor Relations in Brazil’s Steel City.
    (pp. 134-157)

    Dom Agnelo’s letter refers to the “work” of constructing a steel mill and a company town in Volta Redonda in the interior of Rio de Janeiro state. The Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional (CSN; National Steel Company), a state-administered enterprise created by Getulio Vargas’s Estado Novo government in 1941, chose the site for the country’s first integrated mill and thus transformed it into a center of the postwar industrialization drive. But Volta Redonda was to be more than the engine of the nation’s industrial economy. The government wanted the city to serve as an example for the industrial modernity and social progress...

  14. CHAPTER SEVEN Borders, Gender, and Labor: Canadian and U.S. Mining Towns during the Cold War Era.
    (pp. 158-177)

    The isolated and scattered mining communities that stretch from the U.S. Rockies across Canada may not meet the standard definition of “company towns” — because since the 1940s individuals, not the mining companies, have largely owned local housing and businesses. But the underlying aspect of corporate control links company, single-industry, resource, or company-dominated towns in the mining world. Companies controlled the workforce through a combination of paternalism and intimidation, which often included spatially arranging worker housing near mines or the smelter, maintaining political power, creating corporate welfare programs, sustaining local institutions, and busting unions, as well as controlling jobs.¹ However, despite...

  15. CHAPTER EIGHT El Salvador: A Modern Company Town in the Chilean Andes.
    (pp. 178-197)

    This chapter analyzes the social, urban, and architectonical characteristics of El Salvador, a company town built by the Andes Mining Copper Company in the Chilean Andes in the late 1950s. A U.S. company subsidiary of the Anaconda Copper Company — one of the three largest copper producers at the time — Andes Copper launched in 1956 the El Salvador Project to replace the failing mine of Potrerillos. Inspired by modern ideas on copper production, labor management, and urban planning, Andes Copper built a new mine, industrial plants, roads, and a camp. The town became a unique experiment in urban planning and social...

  16. CHAPTER NINE Labor and Community in Postwar Argentina: The Industry of Agricultural Machinery in Firmat, Santa Fe.
    (pp. 198-220)

    In 1949, Roque Vassalli, a self-made man and son of Italian immigrants, opened the first factory of agricultural machinery in Firmat, a small town of about eight thousand people located in the southern part of the Santa Fe province. This chapter explores the history of Vassalli Metallurgical Factory and its impact on social and urban relations in Firmat between the establishment of the factory in 1949 and the early 1970s. Although Roque Vassalli did not build a traditional company town in Firmat, he exerted a strong influence over the city and its residents. He was a successful industrial owner, one...

    (pp. 221-228)
    (pp. 229-232)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 233-242)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-243)