Movie. Matewan, 1987.

Posted by T on June 14, 2008
By Title, History, Movies

This movie is based on an actual incident in Matewan, West Virginia that was part of the Coal Mine Wars of 1920-21. The “wars” were a series of struggles between the company, owned by distant and anonymous capitalists, and the local men that worked in the mines. The detailed history of how things reached the point they were at in 1921 needs to be discussed: but later. By the time period of the movie, the managers of the coal company had hired gunmen of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency to prevent the locals from organizing as a union. The men were payed in script that could only be used at company-owned stores. Often, they rented company-owned houses from which they could be evicted at the drop of a hat. They were treated by company doctors, and went to company churches. Finally, the men found a way to go on strike despite these obstacles; the company evicted as many men from their hovels as possible, harassed and even murdered those that resorted to living in tents, and imported new workers from central and southern Europe. At one point in the wars an armed confrontation involving thousands of men broke out, in which the state militia, 2,000 regulars of the US Army, and a dozen warplanes from the budding US air force were set loose on the miners.

The Matewan incident was a smaller-scale yet still bloody skirmish in the war. The town is quite close to the point where Virginia, Kentucky, and West Virginia come together. Find it on google maps, and be sure to study the satellite view as well. The incident is interesting in that the the police chief Sid Hatfield took the side of the miners. Adding further interest, he was related to the Hatfields of the famous family feud of half a century earlier.

The movie is rather transparently a communist spin on the events. The leering faces of the company men are almost cliché. Various fictional characters are meant to add spice. The implied internationalism of the proletariat uniting is the movie-maker’s vision, not reality.

Nevertheless, the basic sequence of events is apparently historical. The movie can be watched to gain a preliminary intuition of this very important period in the history of our people. The story of how faceless eastern capitalists wrested control of this beautiful land from the mountain dwellers is merely one instance in the manner of oppression of our people that continues to this day. Understanding how the dynamic works is going to be one necessary means to equipping us for the struggle for our renewal as a free people.

A fascinating narrative of this chapter in our history is given by a man going by the moniker of “Old Man” on Stormfront radio. Believe it or not, the drama opens with the Hatfield-McCoy feud of 1878-89. Old Man explodes some of the popular myths surrounding that situation, culminating in a “now you know the rest of the story” conclusion that sets the stage for the story of the mining companies that follows. It continues with a provocative discussion of the opportunistic betrayal by local elites interested in their own profit without concern for the folk, and the role churches have played. (There is even an interesting digression on the role of predestinarian “primitive” vs “evangelistic” Baptists.) After that, finish the story by downloading episodes 7, 8, 11, and 12 at Old Man’s archive.

I hope to do a great deal more research into this matter and report back; but I don’t know of a better place to get an overview and whet your appetite for more than Old Man’s interesting and thought-provoking series.

Despite its tendentious and misleading spin — a leftist view that ultimately distracts from understanding the true nature of our enemy, which is reduced to comic book caricature — the movie boasts several strong performances, headed by Chris Cooper as the union organizer.


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