Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hardhats, hidden history and hard realities

I'm a bit chastened to admit this but the fact of the matter is that I used to read more about the history of the American Labor Movement when I was back in Britain than I do now that I live in the States.

It wasn't so much that I was doing the 'revolutionary tourism' bit, but more a matter of being able to score some excellent books secondhand on the subject that would be now beyond my financial reach. The Encyclopedia of the American Left or Louis Adamic's 'Dynamite' or Joyce Kornbluth's 'Rebel Voices' or any of Eric Foner's volumes of labor history are must haves to have on your shelf. Such books are just not as readily available second-hand as they once were. Not sure if the internet is to blame or maybe there is a new generation of radicals who are less inclined to pass their books on. I hope it's the latter.

The gaps in my knowledge of American Labor have to be filled in somehow, and local cable tv is as good a place to start as any.

This morning's New York 1's carried the wee nugget that on this day in history in 1970 100,000 construction workers (and others) marched down Wall Street to show their support for Nixon's war policy in both Vietnam and Cambodia. Led by the President of the Building and Construction Trades Council of New York, Peter Brennan, the march was to show both the respectable face of blue collar America and its social patriotism in light of the 'Hard Hat Riots' that had taken place in New York City twelve days before.

On May 8th a couple of hundred construction workers had run rampant against anti-war demonstators who were protesting about the murder of the four students at Kent State University four days previously and, as the New York Times article already linked to states, their violence was savage, indiscriminate, and made the actions of a minority of R*ngers supporters in Manchester last week look like a Teddy Bears picnic by comparison.

I did write a "wee nugget" when initially making reference to this shameful episode in American Labor history, and I meant it despite the fact that it doesn't reflect too cleverly on the 'noble worker'. Mob violence is mob violence whoever is meting it out and I do think it's necessary to get some sense of the whole picture of the US Labor Movement. It was (and is) exceptionally grubby in places and its unsavoury nature doesn't begin and end with 'On The Waterfront' or the likes of Gompers and Meany.

1 comment:

Karl-Marx-Straße said...

The (West) German unions (in West Berlin at least) did much the same thing. Ok, they didn't officially support anti-war and left wing protesters being beaten up and shot in 68 and the years thereafter, but they, along with the SPD, Willy Brandt et al, did demonstrate in favour of the Vietnam war/in favour of the South Vietnamese and the US-puppet goverment and against the student movement. "Our friend's enemy is our enemy" seemed to be the basic line.