President Carter's substantial victory in the Iowa caucuses is expected to slow down Kennedy for President campaigning in labor unions. At this point, few unions want the risk of supporting a possible loser.
Officially, AFL-CIO policy is to remain neutral until after this year's nominating convention. Lane Kirkland, who succeeded George Meany as federation president last November, made clear then to his political staff that, regardless of personal preferences, partisan activities in 1980 primaries must be avoided.
One AFL-CIO official put the situation bluntly. "Jimmy Carter is President and people don't want to jeopardize their position with a President they're going to have to do business with for at least another year," he said. Refering to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, he said people are "jittery" about him. "Iowa showed that," he said.
Regional conferences of AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education (COPE), now under way throughout the country, are concentrating on congressional contests.They are stressing only the need to be ready to support the "best" presidential candidate, in organized labor's view.
Many attending COPE meetings in major industrial states have expressed personal preferences for Senator Kennedy, but observers inside closed COPE meetings have reported that, even before Iowa, the pro-Kennedy sentiment appeared to be weakening. In part, they say, the tense international situation seems to be drawing union members behind the President, while the Massachusetts senator lost ground in poor televised and personal campaign appearances.
Initial organized labor support for Mr. Carter has been from within the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers, the Communications Workers of America, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Seafarers International Union, the United Association of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters, and the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, all AFL- CIO unions. The unions themselves, however, are not necessarily committed to Mr. Carter, officials who joined a Labor for Carter-Mondale committee made clear.
Outside the AFL-CIO, the National Education Association has announced support for Mr. Carter.
Support for Senator Kennedy has come from within the International Association of Machinists, whose president, William P. Winpisinger, has called for a "dump Carter" campaign, and from within the International Chemical Workers , the International Electrical Workers, the United Rubber Workers, the Brotherhood of Painters, and the International Union of Brick Layers. Outside the AFL- CIO, Senator Kennedy has strong support from within the United Automobile Workers (UAW) and the United Mine Workers. UAW president Douglas A. Fraser campaigned for Senator Kennedy in Iowa just before the caucuses.
The significant tests of organized labor support will come in industrial-state primaries, where union members' votes will be much more significant. To win the nomination, Mr. Carter will have to pick up delegates in big states such as New York, Illinois, New Jersey, and Michigan where organized labor will be active -- and where Senator Kennedy remains strong.