During the winter break I watched the movie Matewan. It was directed by John Sayles and stars Chris Cooper, James Earl Jones, and Mary McDonnell. It takes place in the turbulent town of Matewan, West Virginia during the 1920’s as heads butt on whether creating a workers union is the right thing. The coal workers go on strike to fight against the hazardous working conditions and low pay, but are dismayed by the fact the coal company is replacing them with Italian immigrants and Blacks. As they prepare to start a gun war with the Coal Company and its supporters, Joe Kenehan, a labor union organizer arrives along with a black replacement worker, “Few Clothes”, who both urge for peace and unity between all workers as opposed to just the natives. At a late night standoff between the coal company and the union workers, the Italians and Blacks both end up leaving their tools and joining the union. Throughout the movie both the men and women of different ethnicities learn to give up some of their prejudices, and instead embrace the many similarities as they combat their common foe- the greedy, amoral Coal Company.
I really enjoyed this movie’s historical background and its close look at the lives of the mistreated workers. Although it takes place in the 1920’s, the socio-economic problems that dominate the time can be seen as early as the dawn of the American Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. American workers who refused the low pay, long hours, and unsafe conditions were replaced by German and Irish immigrants who would do the work. The increased racist sentiment taken up by Americans led to unnecessary hate and violence between nativists and foreign immigrants, along with the creation of the Know-Nothing party in the 1850’s. Centuries earlier in 1676, Bacon’s rebellion remarkably changed class structure so that unity was based on race instead of class, while in Matewan bonds were forged between the working class, regardless of their... [continues]
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