The Collective Response: The Reward System
Since the individual mine worker’s response to his occupational problems was limited to escape, his action had little influence on the collective productive system; it became increasingly clear that within the system effective action could be taken only by the group.
The most visible, and perhaps most pressing, problems of the mine workers arose because of the reward system. The workers organized themselves into labor unions in an attempt to demand a restructuring of the reward system by increased wages, lowered supply costs, and restrictions on the abusive practice of payroll deductions.
This collective response of the miners, however, could not transcend the system itself. Met by employer resistance, the mine workers’ united effort to improve their condition often took the form of strikes. The strike affected the community as well as the industry, and raised serious questions about industry-labor-community relations, as well as about the anthracite industry itself. Regionalism, ethnocentrism, and the tensions inherent in the functional organization of work were barriers to united action. In a very real sense, the need for collective action produced a crisis of identity for the mine worker, who tended to view himself as a member of an ethnic or regional group rather than as a member of an occupational class.