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Full text of "Plight of the coal miner / by Jack L. Wallace"

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Jack L. Wallace 

r - 


In the last few months many art idles have 
been published concerning the "plight of the coal miner". 
Many of the authors of si ch articles seem to hnve only a 
slight acquaintance with the actual miners m d there families. 
±n this article I shall attempt to recount some of the 
difficulties of their life as observed from personal acquaintance. 





Survival has been the coal miner !s exause for 
numerous strikes. Is this exause justified? Mary articles 
have been written on both sides of the question but little 
seems to have been definitely established. My object in 
this paper is to relate some of the seamy facts that the 
miner must deal with. Such facts as I present shall be 
drawn from my oi-vn experience. 

My first contacts with the living conditions of the 
miners and their families came with grade school. The obser- 
vations recorded are definite facts though conclusions were 
reached at a much later date. The children from mining 
families were conspicuous because of their thin and shabby 
clothing and their often Inadequate lunches. These lunches 
often consisted of two slices of bread, butter and jelly minus 
any vestige of butter. Lack of butter in these days might be 
due to rationing but at that time it was due to lack of money. 

Upon entering high school I lost contact with most 
of my grade school friends among the miners' children. You 
may ask if I high-hatted them? No, It was merely due to the 
fact that their parents could no longer afford to feed them. 
They must now earn their own way. Some of these started work 


In stores and on farms. Many others started In the alines 
'.vith the aid of falsi f led birth cirtif Icates . Such conditions 
would seem intolerable if a means of rectification were at 

As time passed controversy over the miners' position 
became so wide spread thst nealy everyone seemed to have formed 
an opinion. The chief consideration in any discussion of the 
miner seems to be his wages. There would seem to be no need 
of discussing wording conditions as they ^re necessarily poor. 
Therefore I too shall concentrate upon this considers 1 ; 1 ion 
of money. 

The "truck system" of paying wages in goods or credits 
was practiced in the mining industry until 1871. Never-the-less 
there are many miners at the present time who do r, ot draw more 
than $2.00 per month. The mine owners control their water and 
fuel supplies as well as owning the homes they rent. Th3 local 
grocery store and therefore the fo-d supily Is also company 
controlled. If the miner does not desire to trade at the 
company store he may find that he has a very poor job ©r in a 
few Isolated cases no job. The mone^ for rent, water, od al and 
food is deducted from the pay envelope leaving In many cases 
a deficit rather than any actual cash. 



Duringthe early months of the war effort when other 
work became plentiful many workers, especially the younger men, 
flocked from the mines to other industries. Tb<~ man who had 
spent two years apprenticeship in learning the skilled or at least 
semi-skilled trade of coal mining found it profitable to become 
a laborer, or even a sweeper, in some other industry. This 
would not seem to be any ind cation of a happy or well paid 

The bulk of mine labor is engaged in digging coal 
at a fixed rate per ton produced. This large percentage seem 
to be the ones who suffer the most hardships. In mining 
piecework does not function with the same effeciency that It 
cb es in the manufacturing plant. The wage of the man (Jigging 
coal does not depend entirely on his efficiency but in a large 
part upon the number of mine cars that have been brought in 
for him to fill. In mm y mines the miner will spend a large 
part of his day sitting and waiting for the electric tram or 
the mule driver to bring him empty cars. It would seem -uite 
impossible to raise the rate per ton enough to give such workers 
a fafir living. In many cases the company at a reasonable 
expense could redistribute men and equipment ao as to alleviate 
such onditions. 


The operator of the cutting machine should probably 
be placed in a separate class even though he is engaged in 
piecework. His wages may run as high as $125,00 per week. 
His wage is the outstanding exception in the mining industry. 
In spite of this fact his high wage was characterized as being 
representative in a recent article published by one of our 
leading weekly magaines. 

Immediately above the 'digger" and his piecework 
is the "day man". The "day man", as one might surmise, receives 
a fixed daily wage. The daily wa«;e amounts to about $1«0C per 
hour. However, in most cases he works only 35 hoirs weekly. 
These short hours are partially due to the men's unwillingness 
to work longer hours aa d partially to the coal companies' 
unwillingness to pay overtime. Repairmen are <ulte often 
require l to work overtime in a rush period and to take the 
time off in a slack period the following day or the following 

The wages of the salaried men are usually quite in 
line with their capabilities and responsibilities. The lowest 
of the straight salaried men is the assistant foreman whose 
salary varys from * 200. 00 to $300,00 per monfr . This assistant 
foreman will have from 50 to 75 men under his supervision. 


TljroighDut this article I have been attempting 
to present the miner's point of view. There are undoubtedly 
many things in support of the mining companies' position. 
Those argaments, however, are beyond the object and the scope 
of this paper. 


The facts presented in this article were drawn 
from my personal association with members of the mining 
industry in Western Pennsylvqnla.