A presidential election in November looms as an important test of the influence labor unions and their top officers have over millions of American workers.
In the next two months, Ronald reagan will campaign actively for votes of unionized blue-collar workers and their families, ignoring the fact that officially organized labor has endorsed the candidacy of Jimmy Carter.
To counter Mr. Reagan's strategy of carrying his campaign directly to union members, the AFL-CIO, its affiliated unions, and major independents are mapping strong approaches to American workers in their homes, local union halls, and workplaces to stress organized labor's position that the GOP challenger is no friend of the union movement.
The Republican argument that it is time for change to create a climate for economic improvements -- and more jobs -- will be met by labor with a counterargument that electing Reagan, possibly along wih a more conservative Congress, would be regressive: Union gains made over the years could be lost.
Lane Kirkland, president of the AFL-CIO, predicts "mounting enthusiasm" for Carter, with union political action comittees, led by the federation's Committee on Political Education, motivating the same kind of financial, campaign manpower , and voting help that it offered Carter in 1976.
Recognizing that he is unlikely to gain support from the hostile leadership of organized labor, Reagan plans to sidestep those at the top and go directly to rank-and-file workers. He already has launched a television campaign promising economic changes and prosperity for workers and calling for stronger national defense and partriotism, an appeal aimed at blue-collar workers who see Carter's foreign and defense policies as vacillating and soft.
The AFL-CIO and its affiliates are preparing to distribute several million four-page newsletters to "educate" union members on Mr. Reagan's past opposition to collective bargaining rights for teachers and farm workers in California, to his opposition to occupational health and safety law provisions as they stand now, and on other labor issues.
The United Automobile Workers Union is drafting a six- page attack on Reagan positions for its members, including foreign policy proposals which, UAW says, would "bring the threat of war closer."