Coalcracker Culture: Work and Values in Pennsylvania Anthracite, 1835-1935

By Harold W. Aurand | Go to book overview

8
Self-Reliance

Fear of being cheated prompted anthracite mine workers to rely upon themselves rather than trust others. Contract miners kept accounts of their output and the amount of supplies they consumed. Foremen usually attempted to reconcile differences existing between their and the miner’s records before submitting their report to the company’s payroll office. Nevertheless, miners protected themselves by comparing their due bills against their own records on payday. The aura of suspicion, however, was only one of several factors, supplying the value of self-reliance.

The contract pay system gave miners considerable control over their income. In most cases the rate paid depended upon their ability to negotiate a satisfactory agreement with their foremen. Some operators such as the philadelphia and Reading coal and iron company simply described the work to be done and offered the miner a nonnegotiable rate for its performance.1 But even this “take it or leave it” bargaining strategy reserved the final decision for the miners. The contract between company and miner carried either an implied or explicit reopening clause. The Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, for example, reserved the right to adjust the agreed upon rates downward whenever it concluded that the miner’s income was excessive.2 Miners, on the other hand, reopened the contract by seeking consideration pay when they confronted unsuspected problems.

While the miner’s ability to bargain largely determined how much he would be paid per unit, the number of units produced over a given period of time depended upon his mining skills. The anthracite combine’s policy of restricted production established only the outer limits of the miners’ earning potential. The combine assigned quotas to each colliery, but did not prorate that amount to individual employees. Hence, each miner was free to grab as large a slice of the pie as he could.

Aware that increased effort resulted in a larger income, the miners embraced the work ethic. The greatest compliment one miner could bestow upon the other was the title “hard worker.” Conversely, the derisive “bar-

-107-

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Coalcracker Culture: Work and Values in Pennsylvania Anthracite, 1835-1935
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Introduction 7
  • Part I- The Setting 11
  • 1- The Region and Its Industry 13
  • 2- Life in the Coal Towns 24
  • Part II- Work 37
  • 3- The Colliery 39
  • 4- Working Conditions 59
  • 5- The Sociology of Work 70
  • 6- Pay 82
  • Part III- Values 95
  • 7- The Great Fear 97
  • 8- Self-Reliance 107
  • 9- Reciprocity 115
  • 10- Inferiority and Pride 122
  • Notes 128
  • Select Bibliography 147
  • Index 155
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