June 21, 2020

BLUE-COLLAR BATTLE: Review of The Hardhat Riot by David Paul Kuhn.

Friday morning in lower Manhattan, when hard-hatted construction workers demonstrated—emphatically, energetically, violently—that the anti–Vietnam War left didn’t own New York City’s street-protest franchise.

Beginning shortly before noon on May 8, 1970—the 25th anniversary of V-E Day and four days after national guardsmen shot dead four students at Kent State University in Ohio—several hundred helmeted building tradesmen left work sites across downtown, laid into a large anti-war protest near Federal Hall, and undertook a two-hour rumpus that eventually rolled over the steps of City Hall, leaving 70 injured, six arrested, and the city itself in startled confusion.

What quickly became known as—what else?—New York’s “Hardhat Riot” was a noteworthy event in the nation’s protracted Vietnam War drama. Hitherto the role of the working class had been to contribute its sons to the war effort—while leaving the politics, and the moral preening, to its betters.

No longer, as journalist David Paul Kuhn details in this very fluid account of the event, its context, and its aftermath. Kuhn presents it as an inflection point in America’s journey from Franklin Roosevelt to Richard Nixon to Donald Trump, and to some degree it might have been. Certainly, the hardhats had laid down a cultural marker of some significance. Looking back, though, we can see that it was as much a civic spasm as an actual riot—just one more insult to an obsolescent and teetering post-WWII social order.

Read the whole thing.

Flashback: Happy ‘Hard Hat Riot’ Day! Remembering the coolest 1970s protest you’ve never heard of.

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