Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The primary source of economic support in San Bartolomé is shifting cultivation of maize, beans, and squashes. Other cash crops are planted to a lesser degree. Most men with access to land produce much more than is consumed by their immediate families; the excess is sold for cash. In the late twentieth century, however, population pressure on land resources has left many younger men with nowhere to plant their own crops. Some work as agricultural laborers; their employers may be other Indians of the community, local Ladinos, or distant plantations. The Chiapas oil boom provided the opportunity for highly paid laboring jobs in the 1970s. Some of those who worked in the oil fields used their earnings to buy cargo trucks, either as individuals or as members of cooperatives. Indian truck owners began to displace Ladino middlemen in the purchase, transport, and resale of surplus Indian crops. They now provide alternative employment to drivers, loaders, and maintenance workers. Since the start of the Zapatista uprising, numbers of government programs have provided new job opportunities throughout the municipio. Nonetheless, unemployment and underemployment are increasing problems.
Although women do very hard work for very long hours in San Bartolomé, their work usually consists of unpaid household tasks. Women add to family cash income by planting gardens at their house sites, weaving for hire, selling in the market or door to door, or by paid domestic service in Ladino homes. Some are part-time curers and midwives, occupations that have been declining in importance since the establishment of a large public hospital at the edge of town. Except for those in domestic service, women usually are not fully self-supporting. Exceptions include small clusters of related women working in weavers' cooperatives and a small number of full-time tortilla makers.
Industrial Arts. The only traditional craft recently practiced by men was the weaving of straw hats in a shape and pattern unique to the community. Only four or five men continue to make hats today. Although Indian men work as laborers in craft shops managed by Ladinos, custom and discrimination exclude them from the practice of skilled crafts. A few men work part-time as adobe brick makers; this is seen as more of a laborer's job than as a valued skill. Until the latter half of the twentieth century, most San Bartolomé women learned to be skilled weavers on the backstrap loom. They were also expected to be good at embroidery. The materials produced once were used to make shirts, blouses, men's trousers, and belts of the distinctive local costume. Since the mid-1960s, most men and many women of the community have begun to wear mass-produced clothing, except on special occasions. Women who continue to weave and embroider produce primarily for the national and tourist craft market.
Land Tenure. Individuals may legally own private plots of arable land, and houses and house lots are individually owned. Most of the agricultural land base of the community is communally owned. Title to the core of this land is traceable to land grants of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Ejidos that were formed in the 1930s received land carved from original holdings of the Indian community. New ejidos established since 1970 usually received land that was purchased by the government from private holdings, or lands of disputed ownership. Until 1992, ownership of both traditional communal lands and the land base of ejido communities was regarded as inalienable. Nonetheless, large areas of communal lands were effectively transferred into private holdings continuously from the 1920s onward. The seized lands were taken illegally and held by private armed force. Much of this force was applied on behalf of Ladino cattle ranchers, but armed groups of Indians also seized land for themselves out of lands belonging either to the traditional community or to various ejidos.