AFL-CIO political workers from all 50 states returned home from the federation's midwinter Executive Council meetings in Bal Harbor, Fla., with a clear directive: work harder for the nomination and election of Democrat Walter Mondale to the presidency, but do not neglect aid for ''friendly'' Democrats seeking congressional seats.
The AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education (COPE) has as its primary objective organizing labor's full voting strength to help put Mr. Mondale in the White House. It is increasingly confident that he will be the Democratic standard bearer; it expects challenges from other Democrats to fade quickly after Iowa and New Hampshire.
COPE is not as confident, however, that the former vice-president can defeat President Reagan's bid for reelection, although - for tactical reasons - that concern is not being discussed openly.
The stress in Bal Harbour and in regional and state meetings has been on labor's need to win not only the presidency, but also to pick up stronger support in Congress - particularly in the Senate.
Republicans now have a majority of 55 to 45 there, and, according to COPE, some Democrats are often conservative in voting on labor-favored legislation. Along with the Democratic Party, COPE workers acknowledge that they face an uphill fight to win Democratic control of the Senate.
Their analysts told a COPE conference in Bal Harbour, however, that a strong showing by Mondale in primary and caucus campaigns and at the Democratic convention in San Francisco could lead to ''coattail'' victories by about a half-dozen Democrats.
Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, has predicted victories in three to seven contests to reduce the Republican margin and the slim possibility of recapturing control of the Senate lost by the Democrats in 1980.
Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the Republican Senate Campaign chairman, concedes that some setbacks are possible, but he predicts the GOP will retain ''at least 53 seats, maybe more,'' enough to keep control of the Senate, but with a less secure margin.
The COPE admonition to labor's forces, who are working in well-financed and computerized campaigns in all states, is that ousting Reagan and electing Mondale would be a major victory but an incomplete one, if conservatives in the Senate continue to stall the unions' progressive legislation.
Politics was the most important business on the AFL-CIO Executive Council agenda. Some of the several hundred union officials gathered in Bal Harbour said it is the major item on labor leaders' minds.
But the council also chartered a new national union led by a woman, the Association of Flight Attendants, representing 21,000 flight attendants (85 percent women) on 14 airlines. The AFA, with Linda Puchala as president, withdrew from the Airline Pilots Association, which did not oppose the flight attendants' bid for independence.
The new union gave AFL-CIO feminists another opportunity to note that more than 4 million members of federation unions are women (about 30 percent), but that the new AFA is the only one of 96 unions with a woman as president and that relatively few women hold other top jobs in unions.
Only two women are on the AFL-CIO's 35-member Executive Council.
In other major action, the council refused independence for a national hospital and health-care union now affiliated with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store union, because the parent union filed formal objections to the proposed withdrawal.
The council also denounced the US Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right of employers to breach union contracts in some situations during bankruptcy proceedings. It opposed military aid to El Salvador unless there is more progress in guaranteeing human rights. And, at its closing session, it called for tighter controls over private pension programs, charging that some plans are being mismanaged by companies in ways that could jeopardize the retirement security of millions of US workers.