Labor Day '81: unions challenge Reagan policies

Unions across the country observed their traditional Labor Day routinely, as if harboring their energies for what they predict will be "a real labor day" -- a massive rally in Washington Sept. 19 to protest Reagan administration policies.

The first Monday in September, the legal Labor Day, was more a last long weekend of summer for American workers, a day for family outings, than a day dedicated to demonstrations of union strength.

There were the usual parades and rallies in New York and a few other cities, but relatively few of the nation's millions of organized workers took part in them.

The day was more an occasion for strong political statements by labor's leaders, whose denunciations of President Reagan and his administration in press statements and on radio and television broadcasts showed a widening gap with the White House.

For his part, Mr. Reagan continued to extoll the virtues of his economic package.

In an address taped for radio broadcast Sept. 6, he said, "I see an era in which wage earners will be taking home more money in real dollars and an era in which fewer of us will be looking for work. Our policy has been and will continue to be: What is good for the American worker is good for America."

Labor leaders made it clear that form their side of the fence, the outlook appears less rosy.

Relations between organized labor and Reagan now are more frigid than those between unions and any other recent administration. Moreover, a return to "class warfare" language of the 1930s and early 1940s threatens to lead to an adversary relationship that could affect business and the public along with government.

On Sept. 4 the CBS radio network refused to broadcast a statement by Lane Kirkland, president of AFL-CIO, that CBS described as "almost entirely devoted" to attacking the administration.

The text said that "the people who have captured the White House and have cowed a compliant Congress" do not agree with the social and economic progress made with the support of organized labor since the 1930s.

Mr. Kirkland was milder in an official statement that Labor Day 1981 would be observed "in a mood of deep concern . . . . We in the labor movement are troubled about the direction in which our country appears headed . . . . What we have gained at the bargaining table and in legislative halls down through the years can, in an instant, be swept away -- and that instant could be upon us now."

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