Fighting back against Ronald Reagan's wooing of blue-collar voters, the AFL-CIO's Committee On Political Eduction (COPE) is warning trade unions to beware of "the most reactionary Repulican nominee since Sen. Barry Goldwater."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy assailed Mr. Reagan in that way in a speech before a union group in Washington July 23. COPE workers quickly picked up the word, hoping to hold the political loyalty of normally Democratic blue-collar workers who this year show signs of a turn to Republican conservatism.
Senator Goldwater, who was soundly beaten in the 1964 presidential election, has been a labor symbol of extreme right-wing, anti-union politics. In an early report on the GOP convention, the AFL-CIO reminded the federation's 13.5 million members that Reagan "first came to political prominence as an attractive Hollywood personality who compaigned effectively for Barry Goldwater."
His nomination, the union said, moved the Republican Party "further to the right." The convention also "adopted a hard-line conservative platform" which, as interpreted by the AFL-CIO, would result in "a virtual abandonment of government programs to put people to work and ease the hardships of recession."
There is no question of the AFL-CIO's concern over the Reagan candidacy. Most political analysts in labor offices see at least a 50-50 possibility that the former California governor and his running mate, George Bush, can win with substantial help from union members disenchanted with the present Democratic administration.
Die-hard Democrats at the Washington Union Conference laughed and applauded Senator Kennedy's further description of Reagan as "a reactionary Republican in Democratic clothing" and his warning that the Republicans are threatening to usurp traditional Democratic economic issues, such as a tax cut, in the campaign this year.
Mr. Reagan was once a New Deal Democrat who talked fondly of Franklin Roosevelt and, during his acting years, he served as a hard-working and effective president of the AFL-CIO's Screen Actors Guild. According to COPE, "Mr. Reagan starts off with a sizable constituency that responds to his upbeat assurances of simplistic solutions to complex problems."
Acknowledging the "surface appeal" of Reagan's economic arguments and the tax cut and other proposals in the Republican platform, COPE plans to concentrate its campaigning on "the Reagan record," faulting the candidates on his positions on such labor issues as occupational safety and health, national health care, so-called "right to work" laws, and the minimum wage.