The United Fruit Company and Labor Organization between 1870-1899

The United Fruit Company began to boom, and when this increase in productivity took off, more labor was needed than what was currently held by the company. When “Costa Rica’s own debt” became to be too much, the United Fruit Company swooped in to make a shift in this. Between 1870 and 1899, Labor needs were doubling. While there were many of people looking for employment, “The labor force on these newly established banana plantations consisted of indentured South Asians and black Jamaicans” (Soluri, p.149). These laborers were brought to plantations in multiple ways, and for many of reasons, mainly consisting of the need for cheap and easy labor. This time frame was well known for the trafficking of human slaves, or servants, primarily to areas as such, with need for cheap, but plentiful labor. With a majority of indentured servants being in more colonial America, the concept was not lost to Latin America, where the United Fruit Company took root. The concept of colonialism still shows up in Latin and Southern America, despite not being a direct colonial state, but it shows in “rather [a] direct foreign control over production and labor in a host society, which leads inevitably to engagement with local hierarchies and notions of identity” (Colby, p. 599).

While the opportunity to work was a blessing for some more outside workers that were brought in from Jamaica, free from previous ownership. While that promise of new starts and beginnings, was made, quite the opposite actually occurred. Colby then describes that “unfortunately the life awaiting them proved all too familiar. “Labor contractors misled black workers about wages and living conditions, and white overseers transplanted Jim Crow practices to Guatemala, confining black workers to menial positions” (p. 603). These conditions started to fire up inside many of the laborers. Stress, frustration, and realization started to make itself knowing within many people and make its way to become seen externally.

Towards the end of the first era of the labor force in the United Fruit Company, labor organizations were not settling in well, and some “Jamaican cultivators responded forcefully to their growing marginalization. In 1899, violent riots broke out in St. Mary Parish over the eviction of tenants from a banana plantation” (Soluri p. 151). The laborers were not resting in what the Company was doing for them. In fact, the company was working against the laborers at different points, in some cases, kicking people out of their poorly kept servant homes. In response to these riots, “Untied Fruit established three potent enforcement mechanisms” (Bucheli, p. 190) in relations to labor contracts, to keep their workers, in line in a sense. Bucheli also documents that “in order to tie them to United Fruit, the company created an elaborate schedule for obtaining local providers’ signatures on contracts, thereby preventing them from joining forces and developing their own export business (p. 190). As these events continue to happen in the beginning stages of the empire the United Fruit Company would become, “the first labor union formed by the UFCO’s Jamaican workers” (Chomsky, p. 1). The labor implementation of this time and environment, was creating a sense of tension that would reside in the minds and spirits of many people. For many years, until a larger push was made, this tension would continue to build within the laborers and the operational management until someone snapped.


Bucheli, Marcelo. “Enforcing Business Contracts in South America: The United Fruit Company and Colombian Banana Planters in the Twentieth Century.” The Business History Review78, no. 2 (2004): 181-212. Accessed February 25, 2020.

COLBY, JASON M. “”Banana Growing and Negro Management”: Race, Labor, and Jim Crow Colonialism in Guatemala, 1884–1930.” Diplomatic History 30, no. 4 (2006): 595-621. Accessed February 25, 2020.

Chomsky, Avi. “Afro-Jamaican Traditions and Labor Organizing on United Fruit Company Plantations in Costa Rica, 1910.” Journal of Social History 28, no. 4 (1995): 837-55. Accessed February 25, 2020.

Soluri, John. “Bananas Before Plantations. Smallholders, Shippers, and Colonial Policy in Jamaica, 1870-1910.” Iberoamericana (2001-) 6, no. 23 (2006): 143-59. Accessed February 25, 2020.

“United Fruit Company.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, February 14, 2020.