John Sayles’ Matewan

At J.D.’s, our group watched Matewan, about the 1920’s effort to organize the coal mines. I can only paraphrase Sayles’ comments in the production notes from the DVD, but the combination of capitalist greed at its most rapacious and a violent leftist populism makes for a powerful and disturbing story.

Capitalism brings wealth and benefits to many, but like all human-made institutions, it’s a flawed system that can do great damage when moved to excess. It needs to be restrained before it can do too much harm, and that’s where unions can level the field. They too, are flawed institutions, which must have restraints as well… that’s part of the complex system we’ve set up for ourselves. We have to work it out or fight it out, over and over, as these tensions flex over time.

Fight the good fight, as the old hymn goes.