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

hard hat riot 1970 photo“On this date in 1970, Marxist led anti-war agitators set-up base camp at the George Washington statue on Wall Street, all the while waving Viet Cong and North Vietnamese battle flags while they burned and urinated on the American flag.

“Hundreds of New York city construction workers [from the nearby World Trade Center site] had decided they’d had enough. They proceeded to charge the makeshift camp and forcibly replaced the Communist banners with the Stars and Stripes.

“What happened next, no one foresaw… the construction workers were unexpectedly joined by white collar office workers from the New York Stock Exchange.

“The NYSE literally emptied as stock brokers, traders and other assorted office workers fought shoulder to shoulder along side the Hard Hats….”

Every year on May 8, I post something about the Hard Hat Riot in NYC in 1970.

This year, the incident seems particularly poignant, in light of the new WTC reaching a kind of pathetic milestone last week while looming over the equally pathetic Occupy “resurgence.”

Here are some older things I’ve written about the Hard Hat Riot before, including my discovery of long lost photos of the event (including the one above) from former Communist Party member turned Toronto photography teacher Henry Gordillo, and a neat email I received.

James Fulford just sent me some new stuff, too, like this excerpt from The Nation:

Miss Susan Harman, 29, who works as an administrative assistant in Mayor Lindsay’s office, was at a municipal workers’ rally on Foley Square when she heard about the onslaught on City Hall. She hurried back and arrived just as the hard-hat mob was flowing back and forth between City Hall and Pace [University]. She heard shouts of “Get the hippie! Get the traitor!”
She described what happened next:

Then I saw one construction worker arm himself with a pair of iron clippers and head towards a student already being pummeled by three workers. I shouted to him, “Don’t,” and grabbed hold of his jacket to stop him. He yelled at me, “Let go of my jacket, bitch”; and then he said, “If you want to be treated like an equal, we’ll treat you like one.” Three of them began to punch me in the body. My glasses were broken. I had trouble breathing, and I thought my ribs were cracked….

One might have thought that this kind of stuff would have disgusted even the most insensitive of men, but our national leaders have strong stomachs. Agnew sent Peter Brennan [president of the Building and Construction Trades Council] a letter commending “the impressive display in patriotism–and a spirit of pride in country that seems to have become unfashionable in recent years.”

    –Fred J. Cook, June 15, 1970

Fulford also sent me this 2004 link from a contributor who was on the scene:

The first bloodshed came on May 6. Medical students from the Whitehall Medical Center ripped down an American flag on a Broad Street construction job. Several of the students were beaten up.

But on May 8, everything exploded. A major peace rally scheduled for noon on Wall Street drew a big crowd. Everyone expected trouble but we had no idea just how much raw violence we were about to witness.

Dissent posted a piece last October, looking back on the Hard Hat Riots in light of the Occupy movement.

Of course, now that Big Labor is tied up with pro-Occupy unions, the possibility of a re-run of the Hard Hat Riots seems unlikely.

But I can dream, can’t I?

Comments are closed.