Part 3, Chapter 4 Summary
Maheu is preparing to go to Montsou to collect his paycheck and his wife asks him to purchase a few items. Maheu grumbles that money is scarcer than ever, as the Company is now using any excuse to keep them from working. La Maheude suggests he take Lantier with him so he can ensure they are being paid correctly; they can also talk to the doctor about his declaration that Bonnemort is unable to work. The old man’s legs have become numb and he has not left his chair for the past ten days. He claims the Company is simply trying to avoid paying him his well-deserved pension.
Those who live in Village Two Hundred and Forty do not get paid until four o’clock, so the men stop at Rosseneur’s for a beer. The rumors are rampant that the Company has placed a notice at the pay window; the unrest is palpable and trouble is imminent.
Souvarine calmly explains that the Company is trying to save itself and must cut its worker costs since coal is piling up while the factories are idle. The provident fund is worrisome, and the Company hopes to deplete it while it is still small. Rasseneur argues that a strike is not in either parties’ best interest and this probable cutback is in everyone’s best interest. He is generally jovial but has gotten jealous as fewer workers now come to his bar and listen to him; as a result, he often finds himself defending the very Company which fired him as a miner. His wife, on the other hand, is in favor of a strike.
Lantier’s friend Plutarch is also against a strike since the workers often suffer as much as the owners. Lantier has been unable to get even one worker to join the international Workers’ Association. He has concentrated his efforts on the provident fund, but it only has three thousand francs in it, an amount at which Rasseneur scoffs. The two men do not agree on what is best for the workers.
The Company yard in Montsou is usually festive as the miners come to get paid and vendors come to sell their goods. Today, however, the mood is somber because of the notice in the window and there is discontentment in the air; some fighting words are even exchanged. Chaval, who is now working with another group and is increasingly jealous of Lantier, leaves the pay window and is furious at the Company. When Lantier and Maheu get to the window, Lantier reads the notice aloud since so many of the miners are unable to read it.
From now on, miners will be paid separately for timbering and, naturally, the price per tub of extracted coal will be decreased and the Company opaquely calculates that the miners will lose no income with this change that will begin on December 1. Lantier and Maheu sit down to do the figuring and it is clear the miners will suffer significant loss in both time and money from the mandatory timbering: the Company is “saving money by taking it from the miners’ pockets.” When Maheu goes to collect his team’s pay, he is...
(The entire section is 798 words.)