President Carter is expected to win the endorsement of the AFL-CIO for re-election at the midsummer meetings of its executive council in Chicago this week. But delivering a heavy union vote for the Democratic nominee will be difficult.
The federation's endorsement will be on the basis of its assessment of the Republican and Democratic party platforms, rather than on the basis of candidates Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.
AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland has branded the GOP platform "simplistic, devious, and disturbing." He finds it to sharply tilted toward "a tax cut for the wealthy" and aid for the business sector. A Republican policy of "trickle-down economics" would, he said, offer little help for "serious and complex problems of American workers."
As modified by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's strong floor fight on economic and social issues at the Democratic convention, that party's platform is much more to labor's liking. Mr. Kirkland considers it more "positive and forward looking" and aimed more at "problems working people face."
The giant labor federation was divided at the start of the Democratic convention. About as many unions supported Senator Kennedy's bid for the presidential nomination as backed Carter. At the final gavel in New York, the AFL-CIO was unified on the surface -- in support of the party nominee. But this was less because of confidence in Carter than because of distrust of Mr. Reagan and the Republican Party generally.
One labor political strategist said glumly: "We can give Jimmy Carter an endorsement, but can we drum up a big vote for him? That's the question we face."
For the Democrats to retain their four- year lease on the White House, they must maintain a strong and effective coalition with organized labor, which has a potential of an estimated 40 million to 50 million votes.
The union vote is never solid, however. The AFL-CIO Committee On Political Education (COPE) has only limited influence when workers go to the polls. This year, more than ever, the workers are expected to show independence in balloting. The biggest problem labor faces is the apparently growing belief among trade unionists that Carter and the Democrats have failed to solve economic and other problems and that the Republicans and Reagan might be able to do better.