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.