Spanish Labor Systems

Spanish Labor Systems

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In the US it is very common to still hear of the poor way
African Americans were treated in the early part of this
nations History. We hear stories of black slaves working 18
hour days picking cotton and the trauma of slaves being
beaten for disobeying their masters. For many African
American families, it seems, that was the way of life not
long ago. While it is very important to realize what these
African Americans went through, I think it is often
forgotten that indigenous people of Latin America     were
exploited in similar ways but through different Labor
     From Spain's early arrival in the Caribbean through
their establishment of the Spanish empire indigenous people
were exploited through cheap, slave like labor. One of the
most incredible subjects raised by the documents presented
in Colonial Spanish America is the topic of Labor Systems
that were imposed on the indigenous people. Spain tried to
excuse this exploitation by claiming to save these
indigenous people by teaching them the ways of Christ but
many of the Articles in Colonial Spanish America, Struggle &
Survival, and The Limits of Racial Domination prove
otherwise. Through letters, personal stories, and other
documents these books present accounts that tell about the
labor system used in this area. They tell of the Spanish
labor systems such as the encomiendos and later
rapartamientos and how these operations were run. In
discussing the Labor system that existed during the time of
Spanish rule it is important to understand what labor
systems that were used, why the Spanish used them, how they
justified using indigenous people in such a way, how the
indigenous as well as black slaves were treated in these
systems, and the effects the Labor Systems had on the
indigenous population.
     As soon as the first Spanish entradas arrived in the
New World they realized the vast resources that had been
virtually untapped. They saw incredible wealth in the sugar
cane crops and the wood dyes in Brazil, and the silver mines
in Potosi and other northern areas, plus many other raw
resources. At first the Labor systems were very
underdeveloped in Colonial America, the indigenous people
had produced just enough to use what they needed and in some
cses a little extra for some trade with neighboring peoples
but there was no large scale operations anywhere until the
invasion of the Spanish. Spain saw all the resources in the
Americas as great wealth for the Crown and the entrada
leaders saw the opportunity for themselves. They also new
that the development of the resources 'ultimately depended
on the labor of non-Spaniards. At the begging of the
Spanish arrival there were millions of indigenous people

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throughout the lands who were willing to trade and
incorporate the Spanish peacefully. However the early
entrada leaders knew that the most efficient way to fulfill
their greed and honor the Crown of Spain was to exploit the
indigenous people. Examples of these early labor
exploitation's were the encomiendas and repartamientos.
Later with the increase in immigration from Spain to New
Spain there was a shift in demand from the resources of
wealth such as the mines and the wealthy sugar crops to a
more general need of Spanish goods including wheat, cattle
and other general Spanish goods. As more and more Spaniards
arrived in New Spain the demand for Spanish food and goods
increased so Spanish Rule used hidden Labor Systems like the
tribute and work project systems to get the native people to
work their haciendas and to build their churches, homes, and
cities. According to The Limits of Racial Domination the
Spanish believed as long as 'the Indians exist, the Indies
will exist.'; The Spanish new that they could live well as
long as they exploited the indigenous people they would live
well. In fact it is quoted in The Limits of Racial
Domination that 'In the sixteenth century, the white
community lived on the surplus produced by a vast number of
Indians working in a very primitive economic system...';
Then by the next century they had changed the economy to one
modeled after the contemporary European design.'; In summary
the reason that the Spanish used the labor systems they did
is because they knew the people could be exploited. They
were greedy about getting the fortunes for the Crown and
they were processing the 'primitive economic system'; into
'an economy of contemporary European design';. The Spanish
new the easiest and cheapest way to make this transition was
through the use of indigenous labor.
     According to lecture the first of the indigenous
laborers worked in the mines. The early mines were worked
through surface diggings and later evolved into shaft
mining. Every mine operator, or minero, sent 1/5 of the
mines wealth back to the crown. Potosi was one of the first
great silver mines. The Spanish ran their mines by
exploiting the indigenous people. The Spanish used different
ways of getting labor. The initial way they did this is
through the use of early encomiendas. Encomiendas were,
according to Colonial Spanish America, 'a grant of labor and
tribute rights from the crown to an encomendero over a
specified group of Indians.'; The encomenderos was the man
in charge of an Indian group who would demand manual labor
and tribute from the Indians in exchange for payment,
protection and religious instruction. Later on
repartamientos took place of the encomiendas. The
Repartamientos were different from encomiendas because they
were a designated percent of the male work force that had to
work for the crown instead of a single person or
encomenderos. However, according to lecture, in the 1630's
the Repartamiento system was abolished by the crown, except
for in the case of mining. The Spanish came to realize that
temporary and permanent wage employment was an easier and
more effective way to get new workers. While this newest
system of Labor seems to be the best yet for the indigenous
people the pay is minimal and taxes were imposed. These
harsh tributes and taxes were put on the indigenous people
to pay the crown. With the over work of native people Spain
began to look to additional sources for labor mainly slave
labor from Africa. At the height of the African slave labor
blacks comprised around 15 percent of the mining labor
force. Over the years there is a mix between races causing
additional racial classes. For example racial classes in
Mexico City around 1753 ranged from the Spaniards, who were
the elite and shop owners and artisans, the Mestizos,
laborers servants and sometimes artisans, the mulattos,
which were laborers and servants and artisans. In Colonial
Spanish America it talks about a multi-racial group of
people suddenly being required to pay tributes to the crown
and being forced into work projects as manual laborers.
With the new work project and tribute laws the Spanish found
ways to expand not only their economy but their newly
founded empire. Cities were constructed, estates were built
for Spanish Viceroys and the development of Haciendas and
Ganados were both built and worked by indigenous people.
     Most of the non spanish population had jobs that had
been determined before they were born. Limits of Racial
Domination talks about the fact that a young person had
littel chance of becomming something outside of what their
parents had been. For example if my parents worked on a
hacienda then chances are my life would consist of working
on the hacienda. All of the different types of Labor
Systems that the Spanish employed varied over time and they
seemingly came to be much more fair but the case was not so.
Most of indigenous people were struggling to meet the
demands of the systems and had lacked extra time outside of
the tributes and work project to provide for themselves and
their families.
     The Spanish justified their treatment of the work force
in three ways, they saw themselves as protectors of the
indigenous people, they saw themselves as religious saviors
of 'inferior human beings, living crudely';, and they
believed that since the people lived under the Spanish Crown
they should also pay it.. Spain had little problem
justifying the treatment at first, later people questioned
whether or Spain's real reason for being in the Americas was
to save the indigenous people from religious persecution.
Fray Pedro de Gante's questioned all of the labor that the
indigenous people were forced to do. Gante warned that
Indians might simply disappear due to illness and overwork.
In his letter to Charles V he expresses his worry that
Indians are not being saved. He tells about the Indians who
are required to do labor and are not able to go to Mass and
they are not being able to learn about Christ. The Fray
expresses his worry that if the labor is not eased from the
indigenous people than there is now chance of saving these
people. The Fray also expresses great concern for the well
being of the indigenous people. He is worried about how the
labor systems are treating the people.
     While it was easy for the Spanish to justify their
labor laws to themselves it seems that the treatment of
indigenous workers was often overlooked. In the early days
of the mines and the sugar plantations work conditions were
very bad. According to lecture the Indians worked in the
mines around huge ore and sugar cane stampers that were very
dangerous. Many workers were injured by machines and
crushed, others where killed from mine shafts caving in.
The conditions in the mines shafts were horrible, they were
wet and cold dirty. The workers got sick from the chilling
conditions and inhalation of fine dusts but they were forced
to continue working. In the early encomiendas and
rapartamientos the native were worked sometimes to death.
In Fray Pedro de Gante's letter he writes of the people who
were once lords of the whole land now being slaves. He
worries that the work that they are forced to do is not
tolerable and says that dogs have better lives than Indians
because get rest and are at least fed. Indians often go
without food. Later in the tributes and work projects they
do get paid for the pay is not enough to make up for the
lose of work at home. Indians are mistreated by everyone
they deal with, he says instead of feeding them they are
abused, physically and verbally.
      The section on the Rebellious Slaves in Struggle and
Survival tells about how poorly workers are treated. This
excerpt talks about a slave, Morga, who was shackled by his
owner because he had insulted his owner. The owner branded
him with a letter 's'; to signify him as a slave and he beat
him day after day. Later it talks about Morga working in a
silver mine when one day his owner comes out a flogs him so
violently that it ripped great strips of skin form his body.
Other beatings ranged from hitting him in the teeth with a
hammer to dragging him behind a horse. Even for the free
people life was very hard. The tributes and work projects
had men away from their homes for somethimes a month at a
time. During these times the men must leave their families
at home and the women must seek to feed herself and her
family she must take care of the mans job, find money to pay
tribute and also tend to the children. This case often
leaves indian children with jobs to do of their own at the
ages of ten or twelve. They travel great distances in
search of food and often carry heavy loads inorder to make
their tribute payment every eighty days. With the harsh
work conditions and the tiresome chores at home thousands of
indians died. Overwork, sickness, mistreatment, and
'frivolous litgation'; were major reasons of population
decline. The lands of the Central and South America were
nearly cleared of its native peoples.
     The labor systems that were used by the Spanish in
latin America were often harsh and cruel. The jobs that
were performed then would never be allowed today because of
the lack of safety. The treatment of the workers during
that time period also was very cruel and unjust. The scars
left from the labor systems that the Spanish employed on the
indigenous people are still visible today. The Spanish used
the systems because of their own greed and selfishness.
While they believed at the time that they had justified
reasons for doing the things they did we realize how
terrible the actions that took placve really were. It is
important to be able to sympaphize with the indigenous
people of Central and South America. The drastic decline of
those people in the 16th and 17th centuries is visible today
in the loss of the indigenous cultures of Latin America.
While it is not possible to get back what we have lost it is
possible to prevent loosing anything that precious ever
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