AFL-CIO not turning back on Carter yet

The AFL-CIO continues to be critical of President Carter, but it is not now considering turning its back on him in his campaign for re-election. That was clear as the federation's policy-setting executive council opened week-long meetings in Bal Harbour, Fla., Feb. 18. With a new president, Lane Kirkland, presiding and in firm control, the council expressed "disappointment" with Mr. Carter's economic policies but was carefully restrained in references to the President himself.

It hopes that the White House will drop "discredited economic theories" aimed at slowing down inflation and that the President and his economic advisers will "address the real sources of inflation." The council favors across-the-board, or evenhanded, mandatory controls over "every source of income -- profits, dividends, grants, interest rates, executive compensation, and professional fees , as well as wages and prices.

The AFL-CIO supports the President's voluntary controls program but has little hope for its success. It insists that more must be done to check inflation without continuing to tolerate high unemployment, now 6.2 percent.

The AFL-CIO made intensified political action an "imperative" goal for 1980 as its leaders turned their attention to politics Feb. 19.

Al Barkan, director of the federation's powerful Committee on Political Education (COPE), warned that "right-wing foes of organized labor" have marked many members of Congress for defeat. He said labor must undertake massive efforts to return "friends" to Senate and House seats.

Meanwhile, AFL-CIO's new and younger leadership has begun shaping what is expected to be, in time, a more progressive future for the 13.6-million-member federation of unions -- and perhaps for all of organized labor in the United States.

Although Mr. Kirkland and Thomas R. Donahue, now secretary-treasurer, both worked closely with the late George Meany through the last few years and generally endorsed the same policies and trade-union philosophy, changes obviously are ahead for the federation under their leadership. Each is less committed to doing things as they have been done in the past, and each is more closely tuned in to undercurrents of sentiment for changes.

With Mr. Meany gone, the changes will come more quickly.

However, opposition to Mr. Kirkland also can be stronger and more open now without the continuing support from Mr. Meany, who was powerful even in retirement. The politically ambitious in the federation are biding their time for challenges to the new president. It is improbable that they will move this soon. Certainly the new leadership faces tests in the council, dominated for a quarter-century by Mr. Meany's iron rule. More policy questions will be raised and debates will be more frequent -- and more heated. The administration of the federation now will be more structured and, according to some council members who were mildly critical of Mr. Meany's ways, it now is likely to be more Democratic.

Looking to labor's future, the council will renew Mr. Kirkland's personal invitation to unions outside AFL-CIO to reaffiliate with the federation. This is an increasing possibility now that a number of major independents either have new leaders or are facing changes in top offices this year or next.

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