Leaders of the AFL-CIO -- "big labor" in the United States -- once more find themselves in a "loyal opposition" role as the hold their midwinter meeting here on the sunny tip of Florida.
The American Federation of Labor- Congress of Industrial Organizations, as much a loser as the Democratic Party in last November's national election, shares the Reagan administration's desire to put the national economy on a sound basis. But it expects confrontations.
Lane Kirkland, president of the 13.6 million-member federation, says the AFL- CIO intends to spearhead strong liberal opposition to any White House proposals that do not measure up to the federation's "positive, constructive, and affirmative position."
The federation's leaders, he adds, will be "extraordinarily surprised" if President Reagan's budget proposals do not bring on concerted action by a coalition of 150 union, environmental, minority, and other social organizations.
"We wish the new administration success. We have a stake in their success," Mr. Kirkland said in opening meetings here of the organization's executive board. But he added bluntly, "We have views, opinions, that we believe are sound and we intend to adhere to them."
President Reagan's budget proposals will be the first line of battle.
The AFL-CIO leadership recognizes that many liberals favor budget cuts in some areas -- those that do not effect their own interests. It also is aware of conservatism among union members that shows up in rank- and-file support for welfare cuts and reductions in spending for public jobs.
The federation strategy of a coalition is to prevent a dissipation of opposition.
Labor's program would accept "the use of the tax mechanism as a means of revising the industrial base of the country." The AFL-CIO position is that the tax benefits should be "targeted rather than broadcast -- they should be targeted to areas of the economy, to regions, and to those needing relief."
Income tax cuts, the labor leaders say, should go largely to those of middle and lower brackets. Tax benefits should be given to auto, steel, and other industries that need help, not to the oil industry and "quick-food stores on the highways."
The AFL-CIO would like to see monetary policies revised. According to the union leaders, high interest rates and tight money are causing more problems than they are resolving.
The labor federation also favors new job programs -- though not necessarily those the Reagan administration is proposing -- to reduce the present 7 percent-plus unemployment rate to more than 5 percent.
Already, the new administration has been criticized by organized labor spokesmen for decontrolling t he price of oil.