Haig finds labor leaders at odds with him on US policy
Bal Harbour, Fla.
Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr.'s recent meeting with AFL-CIO's top leadership here underlined organized labor's importance in winning support for US foreign policy.Skip to next paragraph
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The trade union movement has tracked developments in other countries for a century. Immigrants who played a major role in establishing US unions followed closely what was happening in their homelands and, as early as 1881, committed the new labor movement to support human rights throughout the world.
The AFL-CIO is currently the largest and most active nongovernmental organization in the foreign policy field. It has international staff with offices abroad, close ties with foreign labor movements, and friendships within labor-oriented governments.
Mr. Haig called his two-hour session with the union officials ''spicy,'' but added that the dialogue failed to produce agreement on anything.
The Reagan administration had hoped, whatever its differences with labor on domestic economic and social programs, that it could enlist the labor federation's support on key foreign policy issues.
However, Haig's meeting with AFL-CIO's executive council, which ran twice as long as planned, apparently fell far short of that.
The discussions emphasized the crisis in Poland, American involvment in El Salvador, and problems in the Middle East.
On those issues:
* AFL-CIO told Secretary Haig that it is disappointed with the administration's response to the ''brutal repression of Solidarity (the free trade union movement) and human rights in Poland.'' President Reagan, despite ''tough'' statements and warnings of strong measures against Poland and the Soviet Union, ''has backed away from the strongest actions open to him - imposing a trade embargo on the Soviet Union and declaring the Polish debt in default,'' AFL-CIO said.
''It is time for the President to match his strong words with stronger actions,'' AFL-CIO said.
Secretary Haig told federation leaders that a unilateral grain embargo did not work during the Afghanistan crisis in the Carter administration and it would not work now. ''If other grain-exporting countries did not join the US, an embargo would have no effect whatsoever on the Russians,'' he said, ''and it would hurt US farmers and businessmen.''
Declaring the Polish debt in default would, he added, ''disrupt the international banking system, so large is its investment in the Soviet bloc.''
AFL-CIO told the secretary that ''if these arguments are accepted at face value, they prove how fast the West has traveled down the road to a paralyzing dependence on commerce with the Soviet bloc and how urgent it is that we reverse course.''
* The federation has been active in El Salvador and in other parts of Latin America, helping to organize ''exploited'' workers and block any expansion of procommunist groups. A year ago, two AFL-CIO advisers were assassinated while working with peasant labor unions in El Salvador.
Haig defended an adminstration decision to give more military aid to the government of Jose Napoleon Duarte, saying that significant progress toward democracy is under way in El Salvador. The federation will not oppose military aid, but its leaders are far from satisfied that the US is putting enough pressure on the Duarte government to deal with both the country's leftist guerrillas to end wide-spread terrorism and right-wing landowners to abolish ''a semi-feudal system of near slavery.''
* AFL-CIO, a close friend and ally of Israel, opposed the sale of F-16 fighter planes and Hawk missles to Jordan, agreeing with Israel that such sophisticated weapons on Isreal's eastern frontier would be a serious threat to its security.
In a message to the administration, the AFL-CIO deplored ''conflicting statements'' about Israel and the Middle East by administration officials and called on the White House to clear up ''evidence of disarray and confusion in American foreign policy.''