Map of the Deserts of Tarapacá and Atacama

Map of the Deserts of Tarapacá and Atacama. Alejandro Bertrand, 1879. Source: Collection of the National Library of Uruguay, Digital

The desire to control and the joy of movement: social limitations on the construction of saltpetre works as company towns. Tarapacá during the nitrate boom phase

Author: Pablo Artaza Barrios

When one thinks of everyday life for the saltpetre workers in Tarapacá, in the far north of Chile, these industrial regions have been associated with isolation and fragmentation, both because of their desert location and the prevalence of the concept of company town.

Viewed from this perspective, the saltpetre works and their workers’ camps would represent one of the earliest manifestations of this type of mining and industrial site. The article presented here explains the saltpetre district in terms of defining the structure of the canton in Tarapacá during the saltpetre boom phase, running from 1872 to 1919. From the date when saltpetre first overtook guano in Peru’s exports, up until the end of the growth of operations.

This saltpetre region was not fragmented, but formed one single, social construct defined by multiple constant and daily transits and flows, in particular the saltpetre workers migrating in search of better job opportunities and better sources of supply. This circumstance meant that the constant aspirations of the labour force to establish roots and the possibility of exercising rigid social control on the part of the directors and saltpetre works managers were more and intention than a reality.

Download the whole article here.

The presentation made at the International Congress on Worker Settlements and Factory Towns held in October 2018 may be found here