Soft Coal, Hard Choices: The Economic Welfare of Bituminous Coal Miners, 1890-1930 / Edition 1

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While most studies of labor in the coal industry focus on the struggle to organize unions, this work offers a more diverse and quantitative examination of the labor market. It regards the economic lives of the bituminous coal miners in the early twentieth century. Fishback's analytic framework encompasses competition among employers for labor, the legal environment, institutional development in response to transactions costs as well as the impact of labor unions on the coal industry. Utilizing economic theory and statistics, Fishback reveals the models hidden in the descriptions of events, and then tests their internal consistency as well as the hypotheses they generate.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A stimulating and lucid reassessment of a major area of US labor history....This is an excellent example of historical economics."—Business History

"A fascinating piece of iconoclasm. Fishback brings to bear an impressive range of evidence and argument....This cliometric investigation is one that anyone interested in labor economics, labor relations, or the coal industry should read."—Industrial and Labor Relations Review

"An excellent quantitative history of an important subject, effectively combining economic theory and empirical analysis. An important source for researchers, it should also provide a valuable case study for teachers of economic history or the economics of organizations."—Journal of Economic Literature

"Students of labor relations in the turn-of-the-century coal industry will find Soft Coal, Hard Choices an invaluable reference. But it deserves to be read more broadly, for it provides a compelling demonstration of the value of the economists' analytical tools for understanding labor history."—Journal of Economic History

"Price Fishback insists that economic organizations of all kinds, including even coal mining and company towns, can and should be examined in a disciplined way. His facinating treatment breathes new life into these issues and will be of interest to students of labor and economic organization alike."—Oliver E. Williamson, iversity of California, Berkeley

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195067255
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 5/28/1992
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 296
  • Lexile: 1480L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.63 (w) x 9.63 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

University of Arizona
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Table of Contents

1. The Miners' Choices: Voice or Exit 3
2. The Analytical Framework 11
The Implications of Competition 11
The Impact of Collective Action and Unions 14
Summary of Implications 16
3. The Coal Labor Market, 1890-1930 19
Long-term Trends in the Coal Product Market 19
Exercising Voice Through the Union 23
Competition Among Employers for Labor 25
The Miners' Mobility 27
The Miners' Information 31
Summary 35
4. Working in a Coal Mine 42
Tonnage Men 42
Daymen 45
Management 47
Rewards in the Occupational Hierarchy 49
5. Methods of Wage Payment 60
Piece Rates, Time Rates, and Transactions Costs 60
Piece Rates and Quality Control 65
Piece Rates and Variation in Mine Conditions 68
Summary 73
6. Dig Sixteen Tons and What Did You Get? Earnings 79
Why Become a Miner? High Hourly Earnings 80
Annual Earnings 83
The Worker's Choice 84
Trends in Real Earnings 88
Regional Comparisons Within Coal Mining 91
Summary 97
7. Death's Taken a Mighty Toll for Coal, Coal, Coal 102
The Extent and Nature of Coal Accidents 102
Wages and Accident Rates 108
Unions and Safety 111
Government Regulation of Safety 112
Changes in Liability Laws 118
Compensation and Accident Prevention 120
Summary 125
8. Did Coal Miners "Owe Their Souls to the Company Store"? 133
The Limits on Store Monopoly 134
Why Did Companies Own Stores? 135
Store Prices 136
Were Miners Forced to Buy at the Store? 141
Conclusions 147
9. The Company Town 152
The Nature of Company Housing 152
Why Did Companies Own Housing? 155
Monopoly Ownership? 155
The "Necessity" of Company Ownership 157
A Device to Prevent Collective Action 159
Model Towns 161
Sanitation in Coal Towns During the 1920s 161
Sanitation in Company Towns 163
Sanitation in Company versus Independent Towns 164
Conclusions 165
10. Coal Mines as Melting Pots 171
The Geographic Location of Blacks and Immigrants 172
The Limited Nature of Discrimination in West Virginia 176
Wage Rates and Earnings 176
Differences in Workplace Safety 178
Positioning in the Job Hierarchy 179
The Impact of Competition on Segregated Schools 184
Housing Segregation 186
Segregation Across Mines 188
Black Workers in Alabama 190
Black Workers and the UMWA 190
Summary 191
11. What Did Miners Gain from Strikes? 198
Strike Activity in Bituminous Coal Mining 199
Differences in Strike Activity Within the Coal Industry 203
The Pecuniary Gains and Losses from Strikes 205
Violence During Strikes 212
Conclusions 215
12. Conclusions 221
Appendix A Calculating Earnings for Workers in Coal Mining and Manufacturing 225
Annual Earnings 225
Hourly Earnings 226
Appendix B Sources of Data for Panel of Twenty-three Coal States from 1901 to 1930 234
Accident Rates 234
Coal Prices, Technological Variables, Strikes, Union Strength, and Mine Size 235
Wage Rates 236
Workers' Compensation Legislation 237
State Mining Legislation and Enforcement 238
Appendix C Estimating the Relationship Between Wages and Accident Rates 242
Appendix D A Theoretical Model of Accident Prevention by Miners and Employers 250
The Representative Miner 251
The Operator 253
Combining the Results 254
Appendix E Measuring Segregation in Job Hierarchies 256
Appendix F An Empirical Test of the Influence of Coal Companies on Equalizing Black and White Schools in West Virginia 262
Appendix G Piece Rate Regressions for West Virginia Counties 266
Index 271
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