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The AFL-CIO sets its priorities

By Ed TownsendSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / October 11, 1983



Hollywood, Fla.

''Hardly a sparrow falls, here or abroad, that we do not take within the jurisdiction of the trade union movement.'' Lane Kirkland, president of the AFL-CIO, used those words during the federation's biannual Florida convention to describe the broad interests and commitments of American labor today.

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He acknowledged that not all in the union movement fully agree with the breadth of its policies and programs now.

''Some may regret the range of our commitments and long for the simpler agenda of an earlier time,'' he told delegates representing some 13.8 million members in 95 unions. But, he said, ''what may seem remote to one sector is dear to another, and we are all here for one purpose: to help each other.''

Mr. Kirkland was referring to recurrent complaints from a slim minority that unions now devote too little attention to organizing the unorganized and to militant representation of workers.

Although there was some dissent in hotel corridors, the convention itself seemed solidly behind the broad approach to labor commitments now more obvious than ever under Kirkland's leadership.

Bread-and-butter issues are still important at international union conventions where bargaining policies are set. The AFL-CIO has no bargaining responsibilities, so few of some 250 resolutions at the convention in Hollywood, Fla., dealt with such matters. Those that did were general - on the state of the national economy, high unemployment, and the need to rebuild American industry - and were political in tone.

These drew some of the very limited discussions on the floor during four days of meetings - but there was no debate or dissensions. For the most part, supporting speeches called for more trade protection or dealt with the threat to workers of employers using bankruptcies to abrogate contracts.

Otherwise, resolutions dealt with such issues as rights for women who suffer from ''pervasive and entrenched sex discrimination,'' the rights of blacks and Hispanics, energy, conservation, expanded social programs, better public education and tuition tax credits, more health care at lower costs, and the use of union pension funds for public benefits.

The resolutions were printed, summarized from the platform, then voted on routinely, almost all without discussion and with little apparent attention or interest from about 800 delegates reading or talking at tables.

International resolutions were far-reaching, from denunciations of the Soviet Union as ''the principal threat to security in the world,'' to continuing support for the Solidarity movement in Poland, and on through a series of policy statements on ''multiple and continuing crises that characterize the international scene. . . .'' To Kirkland, situations such as the denied rights of workers in South Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere are the ''fallen sparrows'' he cited.

Only politics aroused excitement and drew an enthusiastic response from delegates. They gave shouting, clapping, foot-stomping approval to the AFL-CIO's endorsement of Democratic candidate Walter F. Mondale, and they welcomed his visit to the convention.

They apparently felt they finally had an opportunity to express themselves on the matter - and the candidate - of potential importance to themselves personally and to labor's rank and file.