“You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store”
— “Sixteen Tons“, Merle Travis
Tennessee Ernie Ford sang those lines a long time ago, probably the famous version of a song that had been around for a while, and is still heard today. It’s a coal miner’s lament – miners were tied to a mine, living in (and paying rent for) company-owned housing, and forced to buy necessities from the company store, because miners were basically immobile – they never left the mines.
The company store is a target of hatred in story and song – a place where the mining company basically took back most of the wages it paid by selling required goods to the workers at inflated prices. Often, miners weren’t even paid cash – they were paid in scrip, fake money that could only be used at the company store.
It was an unfair practice, one that took automobiles (cheap, personal transportation) and the formation of unions to end.
Imagine a company store today. One selling low-quality products at inflated prices – and selling products that many people don’t even want. However, with this company store, you’re required to buy the products – in fact, if you don’t buy the products, you can pay a fine.
That’s Obamacare. Welcome to the coal mines.