Nation: The Sudden Rising of the Hardhats

They swaggered through Manhattan streets almost daily—sleeves rolled up, feisty grins on their faces, hoarsely chanting "U.S.A. all the way!" Their ranks were made up of hundreds of beefy construction workers in hardhats of plastic or metal, joined by longshoremen and blue-collar workers from a dozen other trades. Police kept the construction men well apart from spectators. Each time they marched in the financial district, the hardhats were showered with ticker tape, like national heroes.

Unsympathetic bystanders, cowed by the hardhats' display of muscle, concealed their feelings. They had good reason to. The...

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