Friday, April 4, 2008


I remember a day on the job when the work was hard. The hours were long and the pay was nothing to brag about. Several of the younger fellows were complaining. They were certain that some people were just sitting in their soft, comfortable chairs and getting rich from this project, while we were performing “slave labor” out in the almost unbearable heat.
A middle-aged fellow showed only a hint of a smile. “Well, that’s the way it always goes. The rich get richer, and the poor get kids.”
That was probably not an original idea. But it was the first time I had heard it. And I suddenly realized how true it was. For him, anyway. The man had a large family. And an old car that ran only part of the time. He was stuck in this low paying job at a time when most material handling and work of that type was still accomplished by “brute strength and sheer awkwardness,” and there was no indication that things would ever get any better.
I have read and heard old stories about isolated mining towns and factory towns that had only one major employer. Workers and their families were completely dependent upon that one company. With no competition, the company usually had free rein in determining wages, hours, and working conditions. And local workers had little choice but to accept what was offered. During slack seasons when the mines and plants closed down, families were forced to buy their food and supplies “on time” at the company owned store. The establishment readily extended them credit, under the agreement that when the factory whistle blew again, they would be ready and willing to come back to work.
In such communities, before there were labor unions to give the workers any bargaining power, the company practically owned the people, and they were, for the most part, at its mercy. There was nowhere else to go and no other jobs available. Nothing to look forward to. No rainbows, no bright light on the horizon, and not the slightest hint that there would ever be anything better in their lives. Nothing but more and more hard work, long hours, and low pay.
As Tennessee Ernie Ford’s song described it: “I owe my soul to the company store.”


The big boss man gathers
The day’s receipts, and locks
Them safely away
In the vault.

The shift whistle shrills, and
The long workday grinds down
To a welcome,
Quick, screeching halt.

One day’s like another,
So much so that old “Clint”
Can hardly keep
Track, anymore,

Of all of his troubles
That keep growing, just like
His bill at the
Company store.

This week’s puny paycheck
Won’t quite stretch to cover
Each and every
Family need.

While rich folks get richer
Poor folks just get children,
More hungry mouths
For them to feed.

Each year Clint feels older,
Quite sure one day he will
Work himself right
Into the ground.

There’s no need for dreaming
Or looking for better.
No easy jobs
Are to be found.

He tells younger fellows,
“Don’t expect much sunshine.
Into all lives
Much rain must fall.

“You’ll find that in this world
Nothing comes easy.
We Can’t walk till we’ve
First learned to crawl.

“With each year you’ll notice
The work just gets harder,
Each day brings a
New ache or pain.

“As your hair grows grayer
Your chances grow slimmer
For reaping much
Financial gain.

“My small paycheck barely
Keeps food on the table.
For hunger, there’s
No easy cure.

“The preacher says
I’ll get My reward in heaven,
I only wish
I could be sure.”

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