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

By Oliver J. Dinius; Angela Vergara | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
From Company Towns
to Union Towns
Textile Workers and the
Revolutionary State in Mexico

AURORA GÓMEZ-GALVARRIATO

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 industry as early as the 1830s, before any other country in Latin America.1 The mills were located far away from cities because they relied on hydraulic power from waterfalls or rivers rather than mineral coal deposits. Early mills such as La Constancia Mexicana (1835) on the Atlixco River in Puebla or La Magdalena Contreras (1836) on the Magdalena River near Mexico City had company housing, a company store, and other features common in later company towns.2 The pattern of building mills away from urban centers continued as long as the industry relied on hydroelectric power generated on site by the companies themselves. The size of the mills and the number of workers, however, increased significantly by the late nineteenth century. Large mills employed between one thousand and three thousand workers, more than ten times the number in the largest mills earlier in the century. The

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