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Waterford - Event Notice
Thursday January 01 1970

John Sayles to Introduce 'Matewan' in Waterford

category waterford | worker & community struggles and protests | event notice author Saturday July 04, 2009 15:02author by Waterford Council of Trade Unions Report this post to the editors

The Waterford Council of Trade Unions is pleased to announce that the world renowned and twice Academy Award nominated writer/director John Sayles is to travel to Waterford from his home in New Jersey, USA to help the council celebrate its centenary.


The Waterford Council of Trade Unions is pleased to announce that the world renowned and twice Academy Award nominated writer/director John Sayles is to travel to Waterford from his home in New Jersey, USA to help the council celebrate its centenary.

John Sayles will introduce his film ‘Matewan’ at a special screening organised by the WCTU on Thursday 15th October in Waterford. He will be joined by his partner and producer of ‘Matewan’ Maggie Renzi for the screening.

The screening will be held in partnership with the Imagine Arts Festival ( and Waterford Film For All (

John Sayles is one of the most admired filmmakers in the US. He has been making intelligent, literary, independent films with a strong social conscience and political awareness for almost thirthy years. He has become known as the Godfather of independent films for his refusal to succumb to the Hollywood studio system. His films examine the moral and physical corruption of a society that worships naked greed over equality, fraternity and liberty.

‘Matewan’ concerns the attempt by an IWW union organiser to unionise coalmine workers in the face of violence, brutality and vicious exploitation. The character Joe Kenehan preaches a doctrine of working class solidarity and consistently argues against recourse to force.

‘Matewan’ is a marvellous celebration of working class solidarity and courage in the face of the most brutal employers. It focuses on the rank and file experience of the 1920 strike with the intention of inspiring similar solidarity and courage among the working class today.

The film is based on the true story of the Battle of Matewan where workers from the Stone Mountain Coal Company fought with hired mercenaries from the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency. The attempts to prevent the workers from unionising resulted in a pitched battle on the streets of Matewan, West Virginia on May 19th 1920, which resulted in ten deaths including the mayor of the town.

Inspired by the Battle of Matewan, coal miners from across West Virginia gathered in Charelstown, West Virginia. Determined to organise the southern coalfields, they began a march to Logan County. Thousands of miners joined them along the way in what became the largest armed insurrection in the United States since the Civil War – the Battle of Blair Mountain. The Battle of Blair Mountain was the largest organised armed uprising in American labour history and led directly to the labour laws currently in effect in the United States of America.

The Waterford Council of Trade Unions was founded on May 24th 1909. Since that day the council has provided a voice and leadership on matters industrial, political and social for the betterment of the working people of Waterford City and County.

Many historic challenges had to be faced - the early struggles of survival and decriminalisation; the massive upheavals of the war of independence; the founding of the Free State; the class war of the great Waterford agricultural labourers strike of 1921-23; the Waterford Soviet of 1920; the cycle of recessions and depressions that Ireland suffered as a result of a legacy of poverty and underdevelopment from colonial occupation and right wing government opposition to state sponsored enterprise.

For a century the WCTU has led the challenge to powerful vested interests, fighting for improved industrial and social conditions and has given a voice to the Labour movement in the city. As part of its centenary celebrations the council will be holding a series of cultural and educational events over the next twelve months.

For more information please contact / 086-3274015
About John Sayles

Before there was an Independent Film Channel or a Sundance Festival, and long before independent film became a ‘marketing niche’ there was John Sayles, making it happen with a combination of talent, shrewdness, and determination.

And he's kept on making it happen for three decades, coming to personify the movement that he jump-started in 1979 with his $40,000 feature The Return of the Secaucus 7. He has become the definitive independent, the Godfather of Bootstrap Cinema.

John Sayles was the original do-it-yourselfer. Even though his budgets have increased over the years — from $40,000 for Secaucus 7 to $4.5 million for Limbo (1999) — his basic MO hasn't really changed. His methodical, buccaneering approach to film has become something of a legend in the Hollywood system.

Like Martin Scorsese and James Cameron, among others, Sayles got his start in film working with Roger Corman. Sayles went on to fund his first film, Return of the Secaucus 7, with $30,000 he had in the bank from writing scripts for Corman. He set the film in a large house so that he did not have to travel to or get permits for different locations, set it over a three-day weekend to limit costume changes, and wrote it about people his age so that he could have his friends act in it.

In 1983, after the films Baby It's You (starring Rosanna Arquette) and Lianna (a sympathetic story in which a married woman becomes discontented with her marriage and falls in love with another woman), Sayles received a MacArthur Fellowship for $40,000 a year for a five-year term. Sayles used the money to fund The Brother from Another Planet, a film about a black, three-toed slave who escapes from another planet and finds himself at home among the people of Harlem in New York City, largely because he is incapable of speaking.

Sayles has funded most of his films by writing genre scripts such as Piranha, Alligator, The Howling and The Challenge. One such script, for an unproduced film called Night Skies, inspired the project that would eventually become the film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. That film's director, Steven Spielberg, later commissioned Sayles to write the script for the forthcoming Jurassic Park IV.

Sayles also works as a script doctor; he has done rewrites for Apollo 13, The Fugitive, and Mimic, among others, and finds the job rewarding since he gets to help other writers tell their stories and also meet other directors and watch how they work.

Some of his own better-known films include Lone Star, Passion Fish, Eight Men Out, The Secret of Roan Inish, Limbo, Sunshine State, and Matewan. His films tend to be politically aware; social concerns are a theme running through most of his work. He has twice been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Passion Fish and Lone Star. He has also directed several music videos for Bruce Springsteen including Born in the USA and I’m on Fire.

In early 2003, Sayles signed the Not In Our Name ‘Statement of Conscience’ (along with individuals such as Noam Chomsky, Steve Earle, Brian Eno, Jesse Jackson, Viggo Mortensen, Bonnie Raitt, Oliver Stone, Marisa Tomei and Susan Sarandon) which opposed the invasion of Iraq.


Piranha (1978) (screenwriter)
Alligator (1980) (screenwriter)
Return of the Secaucus 7 (1980) (writer/director)
The Howling (1981) (screenwriter)
Lianna (1983) (writer/director)
Baby It's You (1983) (writer/director)
The Brother from Another Planet (1984) (writer/director)
Wild Thing (1987) (screenwriter/story)
Matewan (1987) (writer/director)
Eight Men Out (1988) (writer/director/actor)
City of Hope (1991) (writer/director)
Passion Fish (1992) (writer/director)
The Secret of Roan Inish (1994) (writer/director)
Men of War (1994) (writer)
Lone Star (1996) (writer/director)
Men with Guns (1997) (writer/director)
Limbo (1999) (writer/director)
Sunshine State (2002) (writer/director)
Casa de los Babys (2003) (writer/director)
Silver City (2004) (writer/director)
Honeydripper (2007) (writer/director)
The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) (co-writer)
Jurassic Park IV (TBA) (screenwriter)
About Matewan

Matewan (1987) is an American drama by John Sayles, illustrating the events of a coal mine-workers' strike and attempt to unionise in 1920 in Matewan, a small town in the hills of West Virginia.

A true story based on the historical events Battle of Matewan, the film features Chris Cooper, James Earl Jones, Mary McDonnell, David Strathairn, Kevin Tighe, Will Oldham, and Jace Alexander.

Matewan is a coal town where the local miners' lives are controlled by the powerful Stone Mountain Coal Company. The company practically owns the town, reducing workers' wages while raising prices at the company-owned supply and grocery.

The citizens' land and homes are not their own, and the future seems dim. When the coal company brings immigrants and minorities to Matewan as cheaper labour, an IWW union organiser, Joe Kenehan arrives in Matewan by train.

Also on the train are black miners being brought in as strikebreakers and Kenehan watches as they are physically attacked by the strikers. Kenehan's first successful intervention in the conflict is to persuade the strikers that the way to defeat the company is to ally with the black and Italian miners rather than trying to drive them out. Kenehan challenges the racism of the white miners and succeeds in persuading them to accept the appeal for working class solidarity made by the black miners who were unaware that a strike was in progress and make it clear that they are not scabs. His strategy works, and in a dramatic scene both the Italian and the black miners join the strike under the guns of the company guards.

Kenehan preaches a doctrine of working class solidarity and consistently argues against recourse to force. The strikers, he insists, must not allow themselves to be goaded into violence, no matter what the provocation. Instead they have to rely on their unity to bring them victory.

As the crisis grows, strikers and their families are removed from their homes by two coal company mercenaries and the situation heads inexorably toward a final shootout on Matewan's main street.

Sayles' simple but telling screenplay brings to light the treatment of immigrants and minorities in the early 20th century South, and it draws sharp parallels between the Matewan labour battle and the Civil War some 50 years earlier. The visual feel of the film is real West Virginia backwoods, with much of the credit going to legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler, whose warm, rustic lighting belies the anxiety and terror felt by the oppressed townspeople.

Matewan is a marvellous celebration of working class solidarity and courage in the face of the most brutal employers. It focuses on the rank and file experience of the 1920 strike with the intention of inspiring similar solidarity and courage among the working class today.

Variety Magazine: ‘Matewan is a heartfelt, straight-ahead tale of labour organising in the coal mines of West Virginia in 1920 that runs its course like a train coming down the track’.

Film critic Vincent Canby: ‘There's not a weak performance in the film, but I especially admired the work of Mr. Cooper, Mr. Tighe, Miss McDonnell, Miss Mette, Mr. Gunton, Mr. Strathairn and Mr. Mostel…each manages to make something personal and idiosyncratic out of the material, without destroying the ballad-like style’.

Empire Magazine: ‘Chris Cooper's superb performance and numerous authentic details makes this a little gem’

Time Out: ‘Sayles’ marvellously gripping movie never compromises its political content. It possesses a mythic clarity, yet there’s also a welcome complexity at work…the result is witty, astute, and finally very moving’.

Virgin Film Guide: ‘Sayles captures the feel of a 1930s Popular Front film but grounds it in a complex reality of a world that refuses to present easy choices. Matewan is beautifully shot and there is not a weak performance in the film’.

About the Waterford Council of Trade Unions

On Thursday 15th June 1908, trade union leader and socialist activist Jim Larkin was invited to speak at the City Hall in Waterford. Larkin’s renown as an orator and radical trade unionist ensured a huge turnout. Three bands met him as he entered Waterford and a huge throng escorted a torchlight parade along the quay.

At the meeting however, violence erupted in one corner of the room when a gang of hired thugs assembled on behalf of the Stevedores and local merchants attempted to disrupt the meeting. Their attempt failed, the meeting proceeded, and Larkin’s words inspired the formation of the Waterford Council of Trade Unions.

Principally organised by ASRS branch secretary Michael O’Connor, the new trades council first met in the ASRS hall, Ballybricken, Waterford on Monday 24th May 1909. At the meeting were delegates from the FTLU, ASRS, Drapers Assistants, Typographical Association, Railway Clerks Association, Postmen’s Union, and Stonecutters’, Tailors’, Coopers’, Corkcutters’, Pipemakers’, Coachmakers’, Cabinetmakers’, and Bridge Artificers Societies.

Subsequent meetings saw affiliation from the ITGWU, Carpenters and Joiners, Ancient Guild of Incorporated Brick and Stonelayers, Grocers Assistants Association and National Federation of Union of Bakers and Confectioners.

The Council created an official labour voice on local affairs, a forum for debate and a platform for an identifiable labour leadership. It canvassed the Corporation and the Irish Development Association; the United Irish League to support the Fair Wage Resolution and it petitioned John Redmond to support an end to Sunday work.

The Waterford Council of Trade Unions became the consolidated voice representing workers rights and conditions and progressive causes. In its first few years of its existence the council supported the 1911 seamen’s strike and the ASRS rail strike in the same year. It fought against conscription into the British army during the First World War and in 1918 supported a general strike against British militarism.

On the 5th April the council backed a strike called in support of one hundred political prisoners on hunger strike in Mountjoy Gaol. The dispute escalated as pickets with red badges policed the strikes and only vehicles displaying workers council permits were allowed to move. This was the start of the short lived ‘Waterford Soviet’.

The Daily Herald carried reports on Waterford’s ‘Red Guards’ on the 24th and 28th of April and the Manchester Guardian featured an article headed ‘Soviet Government in Waterford’. A deputation of Southern Loyalists met the British Prime Minster, Bonar Law, to protest that ‘the city was taken over by a Soviet Commissioner and three associates’. The Sinn Fein mayor abdicated and the Soviet issued orders to the population.

The Soviet ended after two days when the hunger strikers were released from Mountjoy by the British authorities.

Three years later in 1923 the Gasworks Soviet was established during the Gas Co Strike where a red flag flew from the chimney stack near the people’s park in the city. In a dispute over coal trimming, wage cuts and lay-offs, the workers voted not to continue under company manager Percival Collacott and elected their own management committee. The company ran efficiently and provided gas supplies to the city until 8.00pm on Saturday 10th March when, with just eleven men on the job, the army moved in and hauled down the red flag.

Many historic challenges had to be faced in those early years - the struggles of survival and decriminalisation; the massive upheavals of the war of independence; the founding of the Free State; the class war of the great Waterford agricultural labourers strike of 1921-23; the cycle of recessions and depressions that Ireland suffered as a result of a legacy of poverty and underdevelopment from colonial occupation and right wing government opposition to state sponsored enterprise.

Over the decades the council continued in its role as voice for the Waterford working class and campaigner on social issues. The council was instrumental in setting up the Waterford Regional Technical College in 1970, setting up a joint committee to secure the college. It fought to save the Tramore railway in the early 1960’s and established the ‘Frank Edwards Unemployed Centre’ in 1987 which stayed open for over twenty years.

The council had strong links with the ten Waterford men who travelled to Spain in 1936 to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. The ten included WCTU President, Frank Edwards, a teacher who faced discrimination from the Catholic Church and the authorities when he returned to Waterford. The council holds the annual ‘Frank Edwards Lecture’ in his honour.

In 1980 the council supported the H-Block committee during the northern hunger strikes. 5,000 workers marched in Waterford following the death of bobby Sands when a half-day work stoppage was called and larger numbers took to the streets after the death of Francis Hughes.

The council has been at the forefront in campaigns against service charges, including the successful campaign to abolish water charges and the fight to see a radiotherapy unit established in the city for cancer sufferers. The council also affiliated to the Irish Anti-War Movement in the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq and sent representatives to several international anti-capitalist events in the first years of the new century.

In 1978 the council led calls for the Paper Mills in Granagh to be nationalised following the decision of the St. Jo Paper Company of Florida to close the mill. The Granagh mill was, at that time, the only waste paper processing mill in the country and the company itself admitted that modernisation of the plant would make it profitable.

The WCTU called a two-hour general strike for 3.00pm on the 8th September. Schools, shops, offices and factories agreed to shut down for the afternoon and 20,000 people marched from the Glen to Broad Street, wildly exceeding even the most optimistic expectations of the council.

On 20th March 1979 the council supported the Dublin Council of Trade Unions nation-wide strike for tax reform leading directly to the PAYE marches in the early 1980’s where 300,000 people marched on the streets on Dublin which was described internationally at the time as the largest protests in post-war Europe.

During the British miners strike of 1984/85, the council co-ordinated financial aid for South Wales and assisted with holiday schemes for miners children at Woodstown. Following the end of the strike a Welsh male voice choir performed in Waterford to thank the people of the city for their support.

In more recent years the council has regularly called thousands onto the street including a 15,000 strong protest in support of the dismissed Irish Ferries workers, several thousand for redundancy reform and 7,000 in support of the Waterford Crystal workers who organised a sit-in at the world famous factory following the shut-down of the production facilities.

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