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Reproduction Preferences and Wages: The Mineworker in Jharia Coalfields, 1895–1970


By Dhiraj Kumar Nite

Studies in History, volume 30, issue 1

Why did workers bargain for a specific amount of wage? This was an expression of reproduction preferences of workers rather than merely any demand and  supply calculation. This article brings out how the mine  workers evinced their post-traditional economic propensity, as it was in contradistinction to the ‘sub- sistence ethic’, in wage negotiations and work efforts. Mine workers articulated the economic propensity upon the message derived from the self-respect cam-paign and respectable tastes of consumption. Their economic propensity was  an excess for capital’s ‘iron law of wage’. Mineworkers interrogated the latter, and graduated to play the game of wage-work with the rules of struggles for a minimum living wage for a human, ‘civilized’ life. This concept of the mini-mum living wage represented mine workers’ new reproduction preferences, the compensation for the loss of supplementary earnings and their awareness of a mismatch between their work-efforts and their earnings. This article takes the historiography of wage disputes beyond the detail of cost-of-living index and  trade union militancy. It further questions the argument that the returns to  labour depended on the supply of and demand for labour; and that the local customs and labour surplus inhibited workers’ attempt to secure wages adequate for comfortable living.

URL: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0257643014520736

Courtesy: SAGE

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