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I have some interests in environmental histories among other topics in places I’d prefer to live and more than a few years ago I had a chance to visit Butte Montana. Its socialist hall still stands as does its one-block Chinatown. There is a book which I am still waiting for delivery (a used paperback is cheaper than Kindle) that came to my attention because of its use of semiotics, the science of signs, as well as doing a comparative analysis between two highly separated sites.
It’s an easy comparison between failure and success of mining towns but it does remain an interesting contrast with shared features of mineral extraction and labor exploitation. The transformation of industries in the context of climate change requires a broader understanding of impacts, remediation, and sustainability.
…parallel processes involving distinctive constructions of community, class, and gender in the two widely separated but intimately related sites.
This tale of two cities—Butte, Montana, and Chuquicamata, Chile—traces the relationship of capitalism and community across cultural, national, and geographic boundaries. Combining social history with ethnography, Janet Finn shows how the development of copper mining set in motion parallel processes involving distinctive constructions of community, class, and gender in the two widely separated but intimately related sites. While the rich veins of copper in the Rockies and the Andes flowed for the giant Anaconda Company, the miners and their families in both places struggled to make a life as well as a living for themselves.
Miner's consumption, a popular name for silicosis, provides a powerful metaphor for the danger, wasting, and loss that penetrated mining life. Finn explores themes of privation and privilege, trust and betrayal, and offers a new model for community studies that links local culture and global capitalism.
Finn wrote an article published by the Montana state historical society website:
Chuquicamata, or “Chuqui” as it is more familiarly known, is by excavated volume the largest open pit copper mine in the world, located in the north of Chile, just outside Calama at above sea level, northeast of Antofagasta and north of the capital, Santiago.
By the late 1950s, the three largest copper mines in Chile were Chuquicamata, El Salvador mine, and El Teniente. Chuquicamata and El Salvador were owned and operated by the Anaconda Copper Company. These mines were mainly self-contained and self-sustaining settlements. They were complete with their own cities to house the workers, their own water and electrical plants, schools, stores,railways, and even in certain cases their own police forces.
In 1971, Chile's newly elected Socialist president Salvador Allende confiscated the Chuquicamata mine from Anaconda.:108 Anaconda lost two-thirds of its copper production. Two years later, the US-backed military government that overthrew the Communist-backed Allende paid a compensation of $250 million (or $1.4 billion today) to Anaconda.
Established in 1864 as a mining camp in the northern Rocky Mountains on the Continental Divide, Butte experienced rapid development in the late-nineteenth century, and was Montana's first major industrial city. In its heyday between the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, it was one of the largest copper boomtowns in the American West. Employment opportunities in the mines attracted surges of Asian and European immigrants, particularly the Irish; as of 2017, Butte has the largest population of Irish Americans per capita of any city in the United States.
Butte was also the site of various historical events involving its mining industry and active labor unions and Socialist politics, the most famous of which was the labor riot of 1914. Despite the dominance of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, Butte was never a company town. Other major events in the city's history include the 1917 Speculator Mine disaster, the largest hard rock mining disaster in world history.
The mines attracted workers from Cornwall (England), Ireland, Wales, Lebanon, Canada, Finland, Austria, Italy, China, Montenegro, Mexico, and more. In the ethnic neighborhoods, young men formed gangs to protect their territory and socialize into adult life, including the Irish of Dublin Gulch, the Eastern Europeans of the McQueen Addition, and the Italians of Meaderville.
The Butte mining district is characterized by the Late Cretaceous Boulder batholith which metamorphosed surrounding rocks during the Laramide orogeny. Ore formation occurred with the intrusion of the Butte quartz monzonite pluton. Mining of sulfide minerals began in the district in 1864. Placer deposits were mined out by 1867. Silver vein lodes were then the most productive until copper was discovered in 1888. Open-pit mining started in 1955. Copper has historically been the main metal produced, though lead, zinc, manganese, silver and gold have been produced at various times.
The Berkeley Pit is currently one of the largest Superfund sites. The water, with dissolved oxygen, allows pyrite and sulfide minerals in the ore and wall rocks to decay, releasing acid. The acidic water in the pit carries a heavy load of dissolved heavy metals. A water treatment plant has been operating since October 2019.
Aside from the obvious negative visual, environmental, and aesthetic impacts that must be overcome, open-pit mining disturbs the geography continuity of the urban form by disrupting transportation, utility, and infrastructure networks. For urban planners, this can be an epic challenge that must involve input and feedback from geologists; mining, civil, and environmental engineers; water resource professionals; landscape architects; and many other disciplines. Without involving all stakeholders, the challenges may overpower any and all efforts to coexist with such an enormous land use as an open-pit mine.
Greg Palast also wrote about mining and Chile that resembles not a few issues of global mineral extraction.
“It’s absurd to describe a nation as a miracle of free enterprise when the engine of the economy remains in government hands.”
The Chicago Boys persuaded the junta that removing restrictions on the nation’s banks would free them to attract foreign capital to fund industrial expansion.
Pinochet sold off the state banks – at a 40% discount from book value – and they quickly fell into the hands of two conglomerate empires controlled by speculators Javier Vial and Manuel Cruzat. From their captive banks, Vial and Cruzat siphoned cash to buy up manufacturers – then leveraged these assets with loans from foreign investors panting to get their piece of the state giveaways.
The bank’s reserves filled with hollow securities from connected enterprises. Pinochet let the good times roll for the speculators. He was persuaded that Governments should not hinder the logic of the market.
By 1982, the pyramid finance game was up. The Vial and Cruzat “Grupos” defaulted. Industry shut down, private pensions were worthless, the currency swooned. Riots and strikes by a population too hungry and desperate to fear bullets forced Pinochet to reverse course. He booted his beloved Chicago experimentalists. Reluctantly, the General restored the minimum wage and unions’ collective bargaining rights. Pinochet, who had previously decimated government ranks, authorized a program to create 500,000 jobs.
In other words, Chile was pulled from depression by dull old Keynesian remedies, all Franklin Roosevelt, zero Reagan/Thatcher. New Deal tactics rescued Chile from the Panic of 1983, but the nation’s long-term recovery and growth since then is the result of – cover the children’s ears – a large dose of socialism.
To save the nation’s pension system, Pinochet nationalized banks and industry on a scale unimagined by Socialist Allende. The General expropriated at will, offering little or no compensation. While most of these businesses were eventually re-privatized, the state retained ownership of one industry: copper.
For nearly a century, copper has meant Chile and Chile copper. University of Montana metals expert Dr. Janet Finn notes, “It’s absurd to describe a nation as a miracle of free enterprise when the engine of the economy remains in government hands.” Copper has provided 30% to 70% of the nation’s export earnings. This is the hard currency which has built today’s Chile, the proceeds from the mines seized from Anaconda and Kennecott in 1973 – Allende’s posthumous gift to his nation.
— Montana Standard (@MontanaStandard) November 16, 2020
— Joaquim Campa (@JoaquimCampa) January 29, 2021
— Time Out New York (@TimeOutNewYork) January 29, 2021
— The Simpsons (@simpsons_vids) December 4, 2020
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