Matewan Essay Samples
Type of paper: Essay
Topic: Workplace, Film, Cinema, Development, Human Resource Management, Value, Company, Coal
Matewan is a 1987 American drama film directed by John Sayles. This film dramatizes a series of events that took place in a small town called Matewan which is in West Virginia back in the 1920’s whereby coal miner’s engaged in series of strikes and clashed with their employers. There are a lot philosophical concepts there is a lot that can be derived from the events taking place in this film.
Black, white and Italian miners join hands in trying to fight the oppressive dictatorship of the coal companies. However, in the beginning, these different groups of miners are antagonistic towards each other. In the beginning, the white miners despise the blacks who have been brought in from the south to replace them. They consider them as “scabs” that is people who report to work even when their colleagues are striking. In fact, when the miners find out about the impending arrival of the black miners, they try to disrupt this by attacking the train bringing them into the town of Matewan. The black miners however do manage to get into the town and into the mining areas. The blacks are offended by the whites viewing them as traitors and therefore antagonism between the two groups escalates. The two groups are obviously very suspicious of each other in the beginning and this is what drives their antagonism towards one another. It is only when the groups realize that their struggles are similar that they finally join hands.
After a brief moment of antagonism towards each other, the miners finally came together to fight for a common cause. Simply put, the miners came together and developed social solidarity in the Marxist sense. This is because they developed into a ‘class for itself” which is one of Karl Marx’s concepts of class consciousness. A “class for itself” refers to a stratum of people that has been organized for the purpose of actively pursuing its own interests. In this case, the miners came together to push for their common interests as depicted in this film. The predominantly white workers at the beginning of the film move through their elemental experience and gain an understanding of the enormous gap that lies between their own standards of life, their conditions of world and their income and on the hand the great amount of wealth to which they contribute towards and which is owned by coal companies. Soon, their counterparts from the other races come to realize of this enormous gap too. Soon, the entire group recognizes what can be referred to as ‘an identity of interest”, that is they realize that regardless of race or ethnicity, they have similar interests. This level of social class consciousness is what generates the construction of “class for itself”. From this point, all the miners join hands in actively pursuing and fighting for their interests against an opponent who has harassed and oppressed them for an extended time period.
Surplus value is one of the Marxist concepts that seeks to explain the instability associated with the capitalist system. This concept can be used to explain some of the events in the Matewan film to a significant extent. According to the concept of surplus value, human labor is essentiality the primary source of economic value. Capitalists, such as the coal mine owners in this film pay their workers less money that what their labor actually adds to the goods. The amount paid to workers is only sufficient to sustain the worker at what can be referred to a subsistence level. Therefore, out of the total value of the labor accorded by the worker, the amount of compensation he receives accounts only for a small portion that is equivalent to the worker’s subsistence means. According to Karl Marx, the remainder of this labor is known as “surplus labor” and “surplus value” is inadvertently the value that it produces. In this film, the surplus value is used to exploit the workers, and this is primarily the chief reason for their strike and resistance. The coal companies who are capitalists in nature appropriates the surplus value, and in the process exploit their workers. The companies hold a monopoly and also use feudal exploitation on the workers. They force workers to only buy from the company stores and live in the company housing where they are charged heavily. Therefore, in one way or another they extract all the money from the workers therefore leaving them with barely enough to survive. The coal companies are motivated by profit maximization and are willing to do anything to maximize profits. Workers are exploited by the coal companies in order for the companies to reap the full benefits of the worker’s labor and, therefore, obtain all of the “surplus value”.
The events in the Matewan film can be significantly related to Marx’s theory of revolutionary social change. Marx’s believes that social change is revolutionary in nature. This means that it is rapid, sudden and is initiated by the society’s members. This argument appears to fit perfectly with the events in the film. After long time of oppression and exploitation, the miners take it upon themselves to enact social change. Because of their persistence, they are able to bring about to set up a foundation for change in the coal mining industry. The workers do not want gradual change but rather wants it to be immediate. The final scene in the film shows that social change is a costly venture that comes with a lot of human life sacrifice. This is especially the case for revolutionary social change. Some people have to perish for the future generations to witness social change and enjoy it.