The Idea of a Company Town
While Linden was developing as a major mining concern in Guyana, it was also becoming pari passu a company town.
A company town has been defined as a community which is “inhabited solely or chiefly by the employees of a single company or group of companies which also owns a substantial part of the real state and houses.” Since the exploitation of natural resources needs labour, men are recruited, which means that houses have to be built, stores have to be provided as well as churches, schools, recreational facilities and so on.
Another important feature of a company town is its isolation, which may be geographic and/or social. Geographic isolation, may be imposed by the nature of the particular area and industry. Thus extractive industries or those dependent on water power may be deliberately set up in formerly inhabited areas so as to take advantage of unused resources. In some instances a government may make it compulsory or very attractive for incipient industries to move into isolated areas. Social isolation may occur, for example, because of geographic isolation or where a newly set up company town adjoins a long established community but has little contact with the latter.
Since the purpose of the company is to attract, to hold and to control labour the owners of the company find it necessary to make provisions for housing for prospective employees. Housing is not usually run as a money-making venture and rents, if charged at all, are usually low. In housing its employees the company takes the opportunity to install as many persons as possible in each house and to elect any worker who infringes company regulations, Workers in company houses may also be more liable to be asked to work compulsory overtime. The possibility of arbitrary exercises of power over workers is thus a very real one . An analysis of this will engage our attention later on in this paper.
Again, planning of company town usually below approved standards . Many houses are unsewered and lack running water. The company participates directly or indirectly in the control of the church and the school, quite often running both and subsidizing the salaries of teachers and ministers. A company store is also provided which very often is an all purpose store and, indeed, the only store in the area. Monopoly control over the distribution of goods thus gives rise to more power for the company. Finally, the company also runs and controls, its own police force which is used to keep out “undesirable ” and “agitators”, from other areas and inevitably to enforce normative regulations prescribed by the company .
The picture then that emerges is one in which because of the nature of the industry and the area, the company sets up a community over which it exercises maximum political and economic control. What is also worse is that very often as in Demba’s case this power is not accompanied by responsibility.