Auto workers push labor unity

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Regional conventions of the United Automobile Workers have approved a return to the AFL-CIO, and the federation and American labor movement may face major changes in the years ahead, according to Monitor labor correspondent Ed Townsend.

Rank-and-file delegates to conventions held in April voted 7,785 for reaffiliation with the AFL-CIO, to 4,527 against it. The vote authorized Douglas A. Fraser, UAW president, and other officers to negotiate a return to the federation. The negotiations are only a formality; both parties consider a return a certainty, probably before August.

Reaffiliation will add about 1.2 million UAW members to the 13.5 million in AFL-CIO unions and an estimated $2.7 million a year to AFL-CIO's treasury. It will unify labor's lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill -- immediately strengthening the auto union's bid for tighter restrictions on car and truck imports. And, according to Mr. Fraser, it will reinforce labor political action at a time that conservative forces are growing in effectiveness.

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Longer term, it will increase the base for more liberal and socially oriented AFL-CIO programs. The federation under Lane Kirkland has been shifting from the somewhat conservative positions held during the George Meany years. The shift will be accelerated with the return of the UAW, expected to be a strong nucleus for a bloc of progressive unions in the federation.

Conservative unions, particularly in the building trades, are hoping to speed the return of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to the AFL-CIO to offset the effects of the UAW on the federation's internal structure. The Teamsters union, which has been approached, has more than 2 million members and leans toward the Republicans politically. So far it is staying aloof, but its conven tion in June could change that.

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