The Stone Mountain Coal Company wielded monopoly control over the town of Matewan through a feudal system of economic, cultural, political, and environmental processes. Every person in the town of Matewan came under the power of the company in one way or another. The employees of Stone Mountain were under a bondage contract with the company. Once they came to the company it was impossible to leave and at the same time maintain a basic standard of living. They could not leave also because once they signed on with the company they owed the company a large sum of money for everything ranging from the ticket for the train that brought them to Matewan to the equipment they needed to work there. In this way it was as if they were paying the company to let them work in the mines rather the other way around. They did not have the rights basic to capitalism such as the right to join a union, the right to sell their labor in a labor market to the bidder of their choice, and the right to spend their wage freely.
The Stone Mountain Coal Company controlled the processes involving the production, circulation, and distribution of products and services in the town of Matewan. Most of the people in the town were employees of the company and others were in debt to the company through mortgages and loans. Everyone depended on the company for daily necessities such as food and clothing because the company owned the stores in Matewan and because all employees of Matewan were paid in company script which only allowed them to buy in the company stores. Furthermore, their contract said that to buy from any other store would mean immediate discharge from employment. The Stone Mountain Coal company was the only major employer in town. To become self-employed, citizens of Matewan would have needed initial endowments of resources, products and land that were only available at the company's prerogative.
The Stone Mountain Coal company kept economic control through political processes which served to punish behavior unfavorable to the company. The company sent in agents from Baldwin-Felts to act as the feudal managers or Knights who intimidated the people and infiltrated the new union. They also maintained their control over the citizens by wielding their power to evict people from the only homes they had, real estate owned by Stone Mountain, and by demanding immediate payment of debts owed them. Nearly everyone in town worked for the company though and every worker was put in debt to the company. So the people of Matewan were under the legal bondage of the Stone Mountain Coal Company, like indentured servants except that the term of their employment was indefinite. The company maintained the employee salaries at just the point needed to keep them in poverty and unable to save any money that they might use to pay off their debts and ultimately leave the company. Even if they had been able to save though they would not have been able to spend their money anywhere other than in the company stores in Matewan. At the beginning of the movie, one worker tells another how (because they are all in debt to the company) any employee who tried to leave the company could be "shot for a thief".
The company controlled cultural processes in Matewan as well. The church, led by a company loyal minister, was the main institution in town responsible for the creation and transfer of knowledge. By controlling the cultural processes in Matewan, they maintained economic and political control as well. The minister for example unabashedly preached anti-union sermons to the congregation. They also had other ways of controlling the cultural processes in Matewan. Because the company had taken a large portion of land from the "hill people", those people had to move further back into the woods of the region. The Matewan citizens believed that these people were dangerous but though they did appear to be understandably eccentric, the only hill people we saw in the film were kind to the people of Matewan. The fears of the Matewan citizens with regard to these people may very well have been exacerbated by the Stone Mountain Coal company in an effort to discourage workers and others from escaping into the woods. In the same way, the early american colonies spread horror stories about the Indians to discourage defections.
The company also controlled environmental processes, in several ways this benefited the company in that not only did the company then not have to spend money to ameliorate the working environment but those who got sick couldn't leave or pose any threat to the company. The people who took care of sick relatives were also stuck in Matewan and dependent on the company for salaries that paid for any possible medicines or other health care. While the company was putting pollutants into the air from the coal mines, they were also preventing citizens from attempting any sort of agricultural enterprise by controlling the land. An enterprise such as this might (by supplying non-company food) have made the citizens more independent of the company.
Thus, the Stone Mountain Coal Company was a feudal
lord in the West Virginian town of Matewan. They were the sole employer
and and a monopoly owner of resources in the area. Nevertheless,
there are also elements of the feudal society that occur in our capitalist
society today and so the line between a capitalist and feudal society is
sometimes a thin one. For example, today, with the privatization
of schools a growing trend, many corporations are gaining additional control
over the cultural processes in society. Despite these similarities though,
citizens of societies like Matewan benefit from the change to a capitalism
system where they have the opportunity to join forces with their fellow
workers and fight for workers rights or to leave the company and possibly
work for another employer including themselves.