hard hat riots

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March 8th 1970: Hard Hat Riot

On this day in 1970 construction workers in New York City attacked a group of protestors. The latter group, made up of around 1,000 students and others, were anti-war protestors moved to action by the shootings at Kent State University four days before which resulted in the deaths of four protestors. Around two hundred of the so-called ‘hard hats’, who supported President Nixon’s policy in Vietnam, took to the streets in a counter-protest. They were particularly incensed by the mayor’s decision to keep the City Hall flags at half mast in honour of the Kent State victims, a move they considered unpatriotic. Around seventy people were injured in the riot, but only six were arrested in the aftermath. President Nixon didn’t directly endorse the actions of the hard hats, but later was presented with a hard hat by a delegation of union leaders at the White House. The often-forgotten event is frequently buried in the narrative of this period of American history as a time of liberal protests. However the Hard Hat Riot reminds us that there was considerable conservative  opposition to these developments from people like these blue-collar New York workers.

On This Day: May 8
  • 1450: Jack Cade’s Rebellion begins. Kentishmen revolt against King Henry VI, eventually capturing and looting London.
  • 1753: Birth of Mexican priest and revolutionary Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, who was executed in July 1811 for leading an uprising.
  • 1911: The anarchist Mexican Liberal Party captured Tijuana.
  • 1912: George Woodcock was born in Winnipeg. He was a writer of political biography and history, an anarchist thinker, an essayist and literary critic.
  • 1916: Ben Reitman was sentenced to 60 days in jail for advocating birth control.
  • 1916: Foundation of American Federation of Teachers in United States.
  • 1916: Éamonn Ceannt executed for his role in the Irish Easter Uprising.
  • 1919: Vera Zasulich, Menshevik writer and revolutionary, dies in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
  • 1925: A Philip Randolph and Milton P Webster found Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. First black led union to become part of AFL.
  • 1926: During the British General Strike, Police make baton-charges on strikers in Glasgow, Hull, Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Preston.
  • 1926: Rail union secretary JH Thomas begins secret talks with the mine owners, beginning process of selling out the General Strike.
  • 1930: Gary Snyder was born in San Francisco. Perhaps best known as a poet, he is also an essayist, lecturer, and environmental activist.
  • 1933: Gandhi begins a 3 week hunger strike over mistreatment of lower castes.
  • 1937: In Barcelona, police find the horribly mutilated bodies of 12 murdered young men. Eight of the bodies are so mutilated that they cannot be identified. The four identified bodies belong to young anarchists, illegally arrested together with eight friends on May 4 outside the Communist militia barracks in Barcelona, when they were passing by on a truck with “CNT” written on it. The names of the identified young men are: Cesar Fernández Neri, Jose Villena, Juan Antonio, and Luis Carneras. Police also found the dead bodies of the Italian anarchist professor Berneri and two of his friends, who were arrested during the May incidents by Communist militias.
  • 1940: While in Toronto, Emma Goldman has a stroke.
  • 1945: Sétif massacre: At a demo by Muslim Algerian population, police attack pro-independence protesters.
  • 1945: German anarcho-syndicalist Fritz Kater was injured by a dud bazooka shell.
  • 1945: End of the Prague Uprising, an insurrection against the Nazi occupation.
  • 1962: Nine million Belgians participate in a 10 minute work stoppage protesting nuclear weapons.
  • 1963: South Vietnamese soldiers open fire on Buddhists defying a ban on the flying of the Buddhist flag. Nine are killed.
  • 1969: City College of New York closes following a 14-day-long student takeover demanding minority studies; riots among students break out when CCNY tries to reopen.
  • 1970: Hard Hat Riot: Construction workers confront anti-war demonstrators, Wall St., New York City.
  • 1971: Nguyen Thi Co immolates herself protesting Vietnam War.
  • 1973: Members of the American Indian Movement who had held South Dakota hamlet of Wounded Knee surrender to federal agents after a 10 week siege.
  • 1991: 1,400 United Steelworkers of America end 10 month strike at Brunswick Mining and Smelting, winning health and safety assurances.
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On May 4th, 1970 a little bit past noon the Ohio National Guard opened live fire on unarmed students at Kent State University. 67 rounds were fired in 13 seconds and at the end of it 4 students lay dead while 9 more were wounded. John Filo who was a photojournalism student at Kent University wound up taking one of the most iconic photographs of a generation, that of 14 year old runaway Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the lifeless body of Jeffery Miller. Vecchio had earlier befriended Alan Canfora(wounded) and Sandra Scheuer(killed) who were also caught up in the gunfire, in Scheuer’s case she had not even been taking part in the protests against the Cambodian campaign.

Following the the fatal shootings hundreds of universities and high schools around the country shut down as hundreds of thousands of students and teachers walked out in protest. Most protests while usually tense did remain generally peaceful, however there were numerous ones that turned violent, in fact just over a week later on May 15th state troopers in Mississippi opened fire and killed two at Jackson State College. In New York City on May 8th in what became known as the Hard Hat Riot almost 200 construction workers mobilized by the AFL-CIO attacked a group of about 1,000 students who had gathered to protest the shootings resulting in over 70 injuries(politics makes strange bed fellows. In this case you have a labor union organizing a mob against anti-war leftists while bankers and lawyers on nearby Wall St actually tried to shelter some of the students from the mob as the police were doing nothing and in some instances wound up being attacked themselves). A few days after the shooting more than 100,000 in Washington D.C and 150,000 in San Fransisco gathered to protest against the Vietnam war.