GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Letters/My View

February 15, 2013

Letter: Citizens United and the 'corporate store'

To the editor:

Are you as amazed as I am by Youtube.com?

You can type in just about anything of interest and get video. Recently, I had a hankering to hear an old favorite singer of mine, Tennessee Ernie Ford. When I typed in his name, not only did I pull up videos of him (which I haven’t seen in decades), I found a terrific one hosted by Dinah Shore, on her television show. She introduced Tennessee and he sang his great hit “16 Tons.”

“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.”

It is a sad song about a long and miserable time in our country’s history — a time before Teddy Roose-velt stood up to the robber barons of Wall Street and before his cousin Franklin pulled America out of the Depression with the “New Deal.”

A century of such progressive and liberal legislation erased memories of “the company store” and the rigged system that saw to it that working people lived their lives in debt and lifelong insecurity. And so the era of “16 Tons” gave way to the flourishing of the biggest middle class in the world.

Today, we do not even remember what a “company store” was. It was where working folks shopped for the basics because they were paid not in cash, but in some sort of voucher only redeemable at “the company store.”

The company could also force working people to live in company housing — little better than squalid slums, and the rent was automatically deducted from their pay. That way, no one could save for the future, no matter how hard they worked and no matter how many tons they loaded. It was a harsh system and it was rigged to benefit the few at the expense of the many. And so, back then, there was only a small — if any — middle class.

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