Note: taIWWan will be sharing excerpts from David Barry Temple's first novel, Smoke No Fire, about the formative years of an American rebel. In this scene, our hero, Johnny Livewire, has attended his first march in Manhattan and discovered the AFL-CIO is the enemy of the progressive movement.
On May 8th in his sophomore year, he went on his first march in Manhattan with Tony. The whole Social Action Club from Central High School went. Mayor Lindsey paid for their transportation to Battery Park in a black hearse limousine. The mayor’s office even supplied the print shop where they could make flyer. What a great mayor! Business people hated him
A metal-hinged accordion barricade twined around an open manhole. Its worn bruised circular bars one inch think and unbendable. Three tubes one foot from the pavement soldered smoothly, metal bottoms scratching the pitch black surface. On the manhole itself, three feet wide, a pair of think gray fabric gloves lay atop hefty pliers and a cardboard spool of thick black cable. To the side was a three foot passageway where parked cars had formally been before moved for the march. A heavy yellow metal chest sat on the side closest to the open manhole, the hitch extended out past the one-wheeled power unit out into the street where marchers marched. One had to avoid it to make his way up Broadway.
To the left of the work area lay the full breadth of Broadway; four lanes wide without cars parked at meters, thirty feet wide if you didn’t include the obstructive work area with open manhole. The legal march, originating in Battery Park a half mile down the hill at the southerly tip of Manhattan, proceeded by, the noisy procession punctuated by players banging thick dowel sticks on industrial strength white plastic containers punched with holes on either side where a rope strung around the neck of the primitive musicians. It moved on past the Consolidated Edison work-site until he caught it in sight out of the right corner of his eye.
He held up the right rear of the cardboard American flag draped coffin, moved as briskly up the Broadway as the 60,000 Americans whose death was symbolized by the box of their final resting place.
“Ho-ho-ho Chi-Min, the N.L.F. is gonna win! …” bounced off the marble facades of the business towers on either side of Broadway echoing its way up the canyon, clashing with previous and preceding contingents high schools around the five boroughs. The march shouted, the march chanted, and the earnest youth joined to win like Ho would win.
He could vaguely see, from the right corner of his eye, the work area and uncovered manhole cover which lay at its side, and he knew where to avoid walking. From out of the hole, a light blue hardhat emerged, and then a forehead, black eyebrows, bulbous nose, square opened mouth, strapped under chin, and the whole body of a workman. The face had a smile on it, a middle-aged smile with stubble beard around the lips of unshaven cheeks, a missing tooth around brown abused tiles. The mouth smiled but the eyes stared. That should have been a warning. He smiled back excitedly but he shouldn’t have. Within two feet of the five foot cage, cheeks sucked in, lips puckered, the chest expanded, and a large globule of discharge shot through the air. Solid gray phlegm coagulated by whatever soot the man had breathed into his uncovered d blowhole below the street among the serpentine sewers of old New York. The gray matter flew through the air and found its mark like the dart of a cannibal’s straw into his right ear canal and dripped down the lobe like a stalagmite in a cavern. Some dripped down his right cheek and near his eye. Johnny Emerson, hands occupied on the coffin flinched but couldn’t remove it fast enough.
“That’s for the sign of the American chicken; fuckin’ fagot retard!” said the workman as he continued marching, drenched from the ejaculation.
“That’s taking one for the movement.”
“What movement. Bowel movement?”
“Yeah man; from the fat fool’s shitty gut.”
They called it the Hard Hat Riot. While Jonathan Emerson and another one thousand high school students were protesting the killing of four students at Kent State University a few days before, The American invasion of Cambodia, and the Vietnam War, about two hundred construction workers, brought in by bus by the New York State AFL-CIO, attacked them. Union workers from nearby projects and Con Ed workers on the street joined in the feast. He dropped the coffin he'd been holding and fled with the others with tool wielding burly men in pursuit. For two hours, He ran through the streets of lower Manhattan, from Broad Street to City Hall, trying to escape the violence. Escape he did by slipping into J&R Music World on Publishers' Row. He laid low inside, looking at the albums and listening to new releases on turntables in booths in the back rooms. More than seventy protesters were injured, but only four police and a smattering of construction workers who, people said, hurt themselves trying to beat up protesters.
What was George Meany, the AFL-CIO President thinking? He couldn't understand how a union man could be anti-communist since communism meant the workers' had taken over the state. Most labor leaders supported the US military involvement in Southeast Asia without realizing American was clearing a path for sweatshop workers to take union jobs away in the new America. Emerson really thought that Con Ed worker coming out of the manhole was there to welcome the protesters, not spit on them! Peter Brennan, the President of the Building and Construction Trades Council of New York was at the heart of the betrayal. He became Republican as the skilled labor unions lost their power; he wanted to save his own job so he capitulated. He had heard the please "AF of Hell" from Pop. When he was a student at Joe Ettor Junior High in Lawrence, he heard how the AFL-CIO of Gompers had turned their backs on the textile workers of the mills there saying they were un-skilled foreign workers and didn't deserve to be in a union; that's what Pop told him. The AFL-CIO hadn't changed that much in sixty years.
The rally began at noon. While he was further up Broadway getting ready to march, unbeknownst to him and the people around him, two hundred construction workers converged on the rally at Federal Hall from four directions carrying signs that said "All the way, USA' and "America, love it or leave it." They broke through a skimpy police line and started chasing students. The police stood by and did nothing to stop them.
Mayor Lindsay, who had helped the high school students by permitting teachers to join the rally that day, severely criticized the police for their lack of action. The police leaders later accused Lindsay of insulting their integrity by his statements, and blamed him for being unprepared for the demonstration. Brennan, on the other hand, was welcomed to the White House where he presented Nixon with a hard hat souvenir.