Company scrip

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Scrip used by Olga Coal Company, Coalwood, West Virginia

Company scrip is scrip (a substitute for government-issued legal tender or currency) issued by a company to pay its employees. It can only be exchanged in company stores owned by the employers.[1][2][3] In the UK, such truck systems have long been formally outlawed under the Truck Acts.

In the United States, mining and logging camps were typically created, owned and operated by a single company.[4] These locations, some quite remote, were often cash poor;[1][2][3] even in ones that were not, workers paid in scrip had little choice but to purchase goods at a company store, as exchange into currency, if even available, would exhaust some of the value via the exchange fee. With this economic monopoly, the employer could place large markups on goods, making workers dependent on the company, thus enforcing employee "loyalty".[4][5] While scrip was not exclusive to the coal industry, an estimated 75 percent of all scrip used was by coal companies in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia.[6] Because of this, many derived nicknames originated in the Appalachian mining communities, such as "Flickers," "Clackers," and "Dugaloos."[7]

Coins were made out of a variety of metals, including brass, copper, zinc, and nickel.[7] There were additionally "compressed fibre" coins produced during World War II in an effort to conserve metals for wartime production.[7]

Lumber company scrip[edit]

In 19th century United States forested areas, cash was often hard to come by.[1][2][3] This was particularly true in lumber camps, where workers were commonly paid in company-issued scrip rather than government issued currency.[3]

In Wisconsin, for example, forest-products and lumber companies were specifically exempted from the state law requiring employers to pay workers' wages in cash.[3] Lumber and timber companies frequently paid their workers in scrip which was redeemable at the company store. Company-run stores served as a convenience for workers and their families, but also allowed the companies to recapture some of their labor expenses. In certain cases, employers included contract provisions requiring employees to patronize the company stores. Employees who wanted to change their scrip to cash generally had to do so at a discount.[3][4]

Lumber company scrip was redeemable in lumber as well as other merchandise. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, such an option may have appealed to new settlers in the region, who worked in the lumber camps in winter to earn enough money to establish a farm. Taking some of their wages in lumber may have helped them build a much-needed house or barn.[3]

Coal company scrip[edit]

Various forms of coal scrip

Coal scrip is "tokens or paper with a monetary value issued to workers as an advance on wages by the coal company or its designated representative".[8] As such, coal scrip could only be used at the specific locality or coal town of the company named. Because coal scrip was used in the context of a coal town, where there are usually no other retail establishments in that specific remote location, employees who used this could only redeem their value at that specific location.[9] As there were no other retail establishments, this constituted a monopoly. The coal town was established by out-of-state corporations and fueled by cheap labor provided by European immigrants who came to Appalachia in sight of work in the crowing coal industry.[10]

The use of coal scrip dates to the late 1800s as coal companies looked for a way to eliminate keeping large cash reserves.[10] Rather than receiving compensation in United States currency, many miners received payment entirely in scrip, which could be used only at the town store, eliminating any prospects of acquiring generational wealth.[11] The result was a situation in which miners were perpetually indebt to their employer, receiving only an "advance against unearned wages."[12] Because the company store was often the only place to spend scrip, the company could charge exorbitant prices in these rural communities compared to prices in major cities.[13]

$1 scrip coin from Peerless Coal & Coke Co., Vivian, West Virginia

There was no uniform design, but each coin generally identified the location of the coal company town and predominantly featured the words "non-transferrable" to communicate to recipients it could not be transferred for U.S. currency.[11]

Coal scrip was deemed unconstitutional if non-transferable in the early-twentieth century, but continued to exist in Kentucky and West Virginia until officially outlawed by Congress in 1967.[14][15] Much of the lack of generational wealth in coal country in West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky today can be traced to the inability to acquire personal wealth in coal towns in the previous century.

The country musician Merle Travis, on the album Folk Songs of the Hills, makes reference to coal scrip in the song, "Sixteen Tons", made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford.

Wartime[edit]

Company scrip from Badische Anilin- und Soda-Fabrik, 2 Pfennig Gutschein, ca. 1918

From 1914 to 1924, during and following the First World War, a variety of forms of German scrip were issued, including Notgeld, Lagergeld, Gutscheine and Serienscheine. Such currencies were issued "by principalities, German colonial governments, cities, large corporations, small businesses, prisoner-of-war camps, and in some cases, individuals."[16]

Modern practice[edit]

The practice has been documented as recently as 2019. On September 4, 2008, the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice ruled that Wal-Mart de Mexico, the Mexican subsidiary of Wal-Mart, must cease paying its employees in part with vouchers redeemable only at Wal-Mart stores.[17] On May 21, 2019, The Washington Post published an article highlighting Amazon's new system of "gamification", which rewards employees who complete high numbers of orders with Swag Bucks in a game-like system, which can then be used to buy Amazon-themed merchandise.[18] However, the Amazon employees are also paid wages in ordinary national currencies.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Ginsburg, David (2006). "Chapter 2: How Gold Coins Circulated in 19th Century America". In Winter, Douglas (ed.). Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint: 1838-1909. Zyrus Press. ISBN 9780974237169.
  2. ^ a b c Taylor, George Rogers (1951). The Transportation Revolution, 1815–1860. New York, Toronto: Rinehart & Co. pp. 133, 331–4. ISBN 978-0-87332-101-3.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Lumber Company Scrip". Wisconsin Historical Society. January 24, 2008.
  4. ^ a b c Green, Hardy (2010). The Company Town: The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills That Shaped the American Economy. Basic Books. ISBN 9780465022649.
  5. ^ Gibson, Ella (August 1, 2014). "Episode 25 Company Scrip". A History of Central Florida Podcast. Retrieved January 27, 2016.
  6. ^ "Scrip - Coal Company Tokens | Company Store Scrip". 2014-06-13. Retrieved 2020-10-03.
  7. ^ a b c "Coal Mine Script". sites.rootsweb.com. Retrieved 2020-10-03.
  8. ^ Edkins, Donald (2002). Edkins Catalogue of United States Coal Company Scrip Volume 2 West Virginia. Huntington, West Virginia: The National Scrip Collectors Association. p. xxvii. ASIN B0006E5ZQY.
  9. ^ Edkins, p. xxviii
  10. ^ a b "WVGES Geology: History of West Virginia Coal Industry". www.wvgs.wvnet.edu. Retrieved 2020-10-03.
  11. ^ a b "Company Store Scrip". Appalachian History. 2018-09-28. Retrieved 2020-10-03.
  12. ^ Fishback, Price V. (December 1986). "Did Coal Miners "Owe Their Souls to the Company Store"? Theory and Evidence from the Early 1900s". The Journal of Economic History. 46 (4): 1011–1029. doi:10.1017/s0022050700050695. ISSN 0022-0507.
  13. ^ "Company Towns: 1880s to 1935". Social Welfare History Project. 2015-08-13. Retrieved 2020-10-03.
  14. ^ "Scrip-A Coal Miner's Credit Card - Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area (U.S. National Park Service)". www.nps.gov. Retrieved 2020-10-03. |first= missing |last= (help)
  15. ^ Guilford, Gwynn. "The 100-year capitalist experiment that keeps Appalachia poor, sick, and stuck on coal". Quartz. Retrieved 2020-10-03.
  16. ^ "German and European money and scrip used during and after the first World war, 1914-1924". Library of Congress. Retrieved 30 March 2020.
  17. ^ "Court outlaws Wal-Mart de Mexico worker vouchers". Reuters. Sep 5, 2008. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  18. ^ Bensinger, Greg (May 21, 2019). "MissionRacer: How Amazon Turned Tedium Warehouse Work Into Game". The Washington Post. Retrieved 22 May 2019.

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