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Ixtepeji, Oaxaca


10 November 2001


Fernando is a partner in a successful carpentry business. There were 16 partners at first but over the years 11 left, partly it seems because they were reluctant to keep ploughing money back into the business. Now there are five partners: “we have already been together for some time and we have been working well enough, without a problem; but when there are more partners, there is too much discussion, people don’t agree about anything.

After years of hard work, paying off a bank loan and ploughing profits back into the business to upgrade their equipment and tools, they now receive regular orders from top clients, including the government, for windows, closets, doors, office furniture, chairs, and desks. Fernando displays an interest and, it seems, a natural instinct for organisation and management. The business is also offering free training to young men interested in carpentry.

Due to the success of the business, Fernando and his family are able to live quite comfortably – his wife does not need to work in the fields like many others in the community who rely on the crops for their sustenance. Yet his values as a communero (registered community member) are still strong - he rarely misses the regular asamblea (community parliament) meetings and he seems aware of wider issues relevant to the community.

Now, as a father, he hopes to pass on his skills to his small son who already at the age of eight demonstrates a passion and a skill for carpentry. When asked his opinion on the community’s development, Fernando advocates the same principle that he applies to his business, “in work, organisation counts a lot, good organisation is fundamental”.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  How he learnt carpentry: “in the beginning, hardly anybody taught me; it was only curiosity, enthusiasm and love of the work. I began to see how the job was and I began to get hold of the ideas; and the work itself was teaching me then.” Going into partnership: “after 12 years of working alone, the company was formed… Now that we have equipment, well, it is quite big: it is able to employ around 30 people at the most.”
Section 1-2  Source of employment for community: “Sometimes the government orders quite big jobs … then we hire people from the same community. About 20 or 30 people, depending on the work there is.” Reputable business with good clientele: “we have worked with the SEP (Education Secretary), Obras Publicas (Public Works). We have competed, let’s say, with the great carpenters of Oaxaca, the great companies.” Little promotion of the business; they rely on the quality of the work to bring in more orders. Sources of wood. Better to buy locally and check on quality of the wood themselves than to order from Oaxaca City.
Section 2-3  Work/duties as a communero: “we partake in reforestation or the planning of paths... we do not participate in the exploitation of the forest, because we live from this.” How the partnership works: “Here we are five partners, we have already been together for some time and we have been working well enough, without a problem; but when there are more partners, there is too much discussion, people don’t agree about anything.” Communeros’ asambleas (community meetings): “We don’t like to miss the because we have been always dependent on the progress of all the people.” Other private businesses in area – a chocolate factory and another carpentry workshop.
Section 3-4  Income reasonable, but the business “doesn’t make us a great fortune either. Only if we have quite a big job, then it leaves us well off”. Now making 1000 chairs for the government. “But I tell you, it will be once every two years that a job like this comes in.” No longer works in the fields: “I no longer sow crops because, I tell you, every day I have work. I hardly ever rest.”
Section 4-5  How he learnt carpentry – partly from a “very basic carpenter” who only had hand tools; started off making coffins and learnt skills on the job. Equipment/tools bought by the workshop. Big costs involved. “We suffered a lot to establish our little workshop, we suffered in terms of economic resources. For example, sometimes instead of taking money to buy food, we had to plough it back into the business - that was the most difficult thing - to get the equipment we needed.” Some of the partners were put off by having to plough their own earnings back into the business. Got a loan to buy machinery. Managed to pay it off four years ago.
Section 5-6  Youth training: “there have been boys from the community over there whom we have told there is the opportunity to learn, without cost. We tell them: we can teach you, we give you the equipment and everything… They have had the opportunity to learn, because carpentry is very useful. Wherever you go, if you know carpentry you’ll soon find a job.” Management of business: costing, budgets, work planning, pricing.
Section 6  Types of wood used in carpentry. Mostly pine. Cedar resources much depleted.
Section 6-7  Other jobs he’s done: “when I was little… my father… we were involved in installing ovens, making charcoal … I worked very little in the fields, three or four years.” Process of making charcoal: “it is heavy work, too dirty. It took a long time to make the charcoal.” Other work in the community: “most of the people were occupied in the fields, planting corn and beans and all that” - crops mainly used for consumption.
Section 7-8  8-year old son is a “little carpenter”. He lets him use tools and make small items. “I say that he has to do it, to see for himself. After some time, if he wants to do the same, he can get to be a good carpenter...” Views on the community: “I see my community as being more organised than other communities …It is also small … there are around 80 ciudadanos (citizens), and we can talk between all 80 of us, we can agree better than if we were 500 or 600.”