THE SOCIOLOGY OF DECOLONIZATION: THE CASE OF GUYANA BAUXITE

Linden as a Company Town

In Linden Demba owned the land, the  plant  and  equipment,  the  houses.  It  owned and  operated the Ration Store, the cinemas, the high  school,  the  recreation centre and the  swimming  pools.  Even the local Y. M.C A. always had a its president a Demba-sponsored officer. Anyone not living at Linden, even workers, needed a pass to land on Linden soiI.

The company looked after the upkeep of streets and lights and every Good Friday residents were prevented from going past  a  rope  placed  across  the  main  road  – appropriately  named      Arvida  Road  after the first company president, Arthur Vining  Davis. This is a legal and symbolic reminder of the days when the company exercised total control in the area.

A critical feature of community life was the bifurcation of Linden into two sub-communities based essentially on status in the company and also on a number of other attendant features.

Linden can be divided into North and South. Until recently, the southern part of the community (Watooka) housed the staff, who were mostly white and foreign, while the northern  part of the commun­ity (The Village) housed non staff company employees who were all non-white and local. This geographical separation, it should be noted, underlined a wide disparity in community facilities.

Workers’ housing, which was and is very scarce, generally took the form of ranges for bachelors (bachelor quarters or BO’s). These were buildings with a  passageway  in  the  middle with eight to ten small rooms on either side into which sometimes as many as  eight  males crowded.  For those workers lucky enough to get a house, the architectural design was predictably similar and in  most  cases the buildings were not equipped with indoor toilets, having instead a range of doorless toilets built to accommodate a number of households.

Being at the time separated from Georgetown by 65 miles of water (6) or at least eight hours of travel by a steamer, Linden was a geographically and socially  isolated  community. The acute shortage of houses as well as the isolated nature of the community meant that workers who were married and who came from other parts of the country were unable to bring their families. This had the effect of weakening the family structure of immigrant workers. To be sure workers availed themselves  of the single women who by virtue of their unemployment were quite  willing  to  form  relationships  with bauxite workers. Some workers even founded new families while working at linden.

The shortage of houses also increased Demba’s power  over  the  workers and  in many instances  this was used as a means of influencing extra work activities of workers. For example, workers were required to sign a lease which contained the following condition on taking over a company owned house.

That I will vacate the house on request of the Company without any notice and in the event of my failing to leave, the Company shall have  the  right to take possession and eject me without recourse to law. (7)

As one can see  this condition  gave  the Company  carte blanche  to  evict a worker any time it so desired.

In addition to poor worker housing facilities, Demba also recruited a local constabulary. The main function of this body was to enforce rules and regulations promulgated by the company both at the community level and also at the company level. For example, a speed limit was imposed on certain streets and members of the Demba constabulary had the job of enforcing it. Security was a big thing at the company  and  the  constabulary  patrolled  the company especially  at  night so as to prevent sabotage and stealing.

Finally, we come to the hospital. The hospital is also owned by the company and in a real sense the structure of its treatment facilities reflected the basic staff/worker cleavage about which we have just spoken.

Staff men are treated in a different section of the hospital to workers. The former may or may not make an appointment to see the doctor and on arrival, provided the doctor is free can go straight in.

For the  worker  and  Linden resident,  the position is somewhat different.  In the first place the doctor-patient relationship is characterized by minimum confidentiality. The worker is required to disclose the nature of his illness to the nurse on duty outside the doctor’s office, usually  in  the  hearing of  others seeking medical attention . In the second place workers have expressed the opinion that the medicine (8) prescribed does not vary with the nature of  the  illness and  the treatment in general is not commensurate with the cost.

Recreational facilities also show a marked difference between staff and workers. Watooka is equipped with a golf course, a cinema which is well subsidized by the company, and a club. The Village is also equipped with a cinema, a swimming pool, two clubs· one for foremen (the supervisors’ club) and one for workers as well as numerous drinking establishments. In this context it should be noted that while foremen can use both the supervisors’  and  workers’ dub, the workers are restricted  to use of the  latter.

Up to 1961, the only local people allowed into  Watooka  were staff  maids  who  had  their  quarters there, company employees sent to do a  specific  job in one  of  the  staff  houses and  the  constable who stood at the entrance of the infamous Watooka bridge to ensure that only staff members and those on legitimate business were allowed to enter. Anyone other than staff members was required to have a pass.

On the other- hand, staff members can and very often do avail themselves of the  social amenities  in both Watooka and the Village. They do this in spite of the feeling  that  the company does not  really want free and unrestricted social intercourse between  Guyanese  staff  and Guyanese workers.  If this was so, then the implications for possible concerted effort between these two categories of workers would have  been reduced. Men will, however, be said of this later on.

Again, the general feeling among workers is that the white staff is exempt from the arm of the constabulary. Stories have been told of the wife  of  a  white  staff man  who  knocked  down  a  local child with a car and though she had no license, nothing  came  of  it.  It is a  matter of  some  importance  to  note that  these  old  grouses  which  some  thought  had  assumed  the  status of  history  immediately  surfaced  after a white staff man, drunk and clad only in swimming trunks, knocked at the nurses’ hostel and it is alleged a Demba constable made attempts to hush up the incident.

In addition to the above-mentioned company town features of Linden, the community/company has possessed a number of colonial features which must have made it a source of embarrassment to the government and increased the company’s attraction to the latter as a possible target for nationalization.

Politically, all the main decisions concerning the running of Demba were  made  in  Canada  and  the United States of America. These included decisions with respect to marketing, sale price,  profits  and processing. This meant that the government was having no say  over  the  decisions  of  an  important  part of the economy – itself an important part of the structure of any society.

Demba was a branch plant of Alcan and Guyana, and by extension a branch plant of North America. Furthermore whatever decisions that were made locally were made by the three top Demba officials all white and foreign. the President, the Vice President and Assistant Manager.

Despite Demba’s large investment in the area (9) the  company  enjoyed  a  relatively  light  tax  burden which bore no relation to its  investment in the  country  nor  to  the amount of  profits  it  made especially from the sale of aluminum.

Though wages were generally the highest of any industrial concern in Guyana, wages formed a very small part of the annual budget and Guyanese bauxite workers were paid much less than their North American counterparts. In any event the relatively high wages were offset by the high cost of living at Linden. Finally, the company’s predisposition for overseas accounting and their unwillingness  to  show the  government their books forced the latter Into an “almost child like” but apparently unwilling acceptance of the company’s book value declaration of  its prices and profits.

From the very brief discussion it can be seen that Linden  was  a  company  town  with  marked colonial features and ipso facto that Demba exercised total control over the lives and destinies of workers and  their  families.  While  this  power  may  have  been  beneficial  to   the  company’s  interests  it  had the unintended   consequence   of   canalizing   all   aspects   of   worker   disenchantment  in the   direction of  the company. This, as we shall see, ultimately acted as a  major  predisposing  factor  towards a negative solidarity (11) against the company.