A twenty-first-century coal mine in Colombia reveals much about labor and empire in Latin America. To the extent that modern empire has been a project of extraction of mineral and agricultural commodities, it has also been a project of exerting imperial control over labor and nature. This essay puts nature at the center of the study of labor and empire, to examine how humans’ relationships with the natural world shaped, and were shaped by, imperial projects of extraction. Extractive industry workers have a long, radical history of resistance to foreign control of natural resources, positioning their unions as defenders of the nation as embodied by its natural environment, its natural resources, and its people, both workers and local residents, that are being exploited by a foreign oppressor. At the Cerrejón coal mine, labor environmentalism and the association of natural resources with the nation are embedded in militant anti-imperialism.

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