Dynamics of Continuity and Change: Shifts In Labour Relations in the Potosí Mines (1680-1812)

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The Potosí silver mines may be said to have been present at the birth of global trade, which began to grow in the sixteenth century, and the mines continued to be exploited until the first few decades of the nineteenth century. Throughout that long period, the mines were worked by the indigenous population, most particularly under the system of mita or unfree work, which was established in the final decades of the sixteenth century and remained in place until it was abolished in 1812. Behind the continuity of the mita lay important changes that will be examined in this article. It will look, too, at other forms of work, both free and self-employed. The analysis here is focused on how the “polity” could shape labour relations, especially from the end of the seventeenth century (1680) and throughout the eighteenth century. It scrutinizes the labour policies of the Spanish monarchy on the one hand, which favoured certain economic sectors and regions to ensure revenue, and on the other the initiatives both of mine entrepreneurs and workers, who all contributed to changing the system of labour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-114
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Review of Social History
Issue numberS24
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2016


  • Mines
  • Potosi
  • labour history


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