Changes Behind Continuity: Shifts in Labor Relations in the Potosí Mines (1740-1812)

Research output: Working paper/discussion paperWorking paper/Discussion paperScientific

Abstract

The mita or draft labor (that existed during the Inca Empire) used to produce silver in Potosí was established in the late Sixteenth Century and it was still present at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. If we think in terms of labor relations, there is no doubt that we are confronted with un undeniable continuity of this system of corvée work or unfree wage labor system. Seemingly no other labor relation seems to have emerged or replaced the colonial policy of the mita system in the course of more than two centuries. Nevertheless, there have been substantial modifications and our aim is to explore this dynamic and to think in the importance of transformations in continuity.
First, there were important political and economic discussions linked to the role of the state as legislator, intermediary of the organization of the labor force and allocator of resources in name of the Res-public. Even if these discussions did not result in changing the labor system, they affected, in different ways, the institution of the mita and the interests and legitimacy of diverse actors involved in the mining activity. Second, the dynamics engendered by the organization of the mita work implied a system of work between the mita workers and the minga workers that has not been addressed. This is why we speak of the mita-minga system. The labor system engendered as well as the political and economic agency of different people involved transformed and changed the mita in itself. One of the “invisible” changes was the activity of the so called kajchas. This was the practice of mine-raiding by individuals which the mining industrialists stigmatized as mineral thieves. What is important is that this activity was linked to the mita system and to the trapiches or mills that allowed a process of dry grinding of ore. We are confronted with the kajcha-trapiche ensemble that developed in the eighteenth century competing with the system of Spanish miners and refinery owners.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Keywords

  • Labour history

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