It is hardly unusual for one top union official to praise another union official. Or one businessman to muster up glowing words for another businessman, for that matter. But what about a top businessman heaping encomiums on a top labor union official - indeed, a union official who just happens to also be a corporate director?
That is what has been happening in Detroit these past months because of the retirement of Douglas A. Fraser as president of the United Automobile Workers union. The appreciation for Mr. Fraser's leadership of the UAW has come as much from management circles as from labor - a clear tribute to the type of responsible, cooperative unionism espoused by Mr. Fraser and the UAW in recent years. Douglas Fraser ''is a unique combination, a pragmatic man of vision,'' said Lee Iacocca, who is not only the chairman of Chrysler but a person known in Detroit for saying exactly what is on his mind. Mr. Fraser's contributions to Chrysler, says Mr. Iacocca, ''have been extraordinary.''
Few outside observers could quarrel with that description. The Fraser era at the UAW has been historic by any yardstick. Under Mr. Fraser, the UAW made major contract concessions to the auto firms when it became apparent that only cooperation between management and labor could help save the industry from the threat of overseas competition, particularly from Japan. Mr. Fraser also became the first American labor leader to sit on a corporate board - Chrysler - a role he will continue in following his retirement this week. Indeed, the UAW under Mr. Fraser helped wrest political support for the law that finally gave Chrysler
The UAW is expected to select a new president this week at its national convention in Dallas. Because of a better economic climate, it seems unlikely that the rank-and-file will again be willing to grant the wage and benefit concessions of recent years. So, in that sense, the Fraser era is over. But whatever the future it can be hoped that the UAW will continue the Fraser example of responsible leadership.