Breaking with the past, AFL-CIO says `maybe' to military freeze

The AFL-CIO has long been committed to supporting US military spending. This week, however, in Bal Harbour, Fla., its executive council broke with past policies to urge Congress to freeze the defense budget if cuts or freezes are made in social programs. In a strongly worded resolution that continued to attack President Reagan's second-term administration, the council linked proposals for a higher military budget to recommended budget and tax changes aimed, it said, at the middle class.

``We repeatedly warned the Reagan administration that such policies would undermine the consensus for substantial increases in defense spending,'' the 35-member council said unanimously. It complained that the administration had ignored this and ``insisted not on raising taxes to meet military needs but on cutting taxes, especially for the wealthy, thereby shifting a greater burden for defense on working Americans.''

The federation's commitment to a strong defense remains unabated, AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland said; it is vital for the security of the country. The labor party is anti-communist, and, particularly in its ``hard hat'' construction and industrial union memberships, has generally been hawkish in military and defense areas.

Hundreds of thousands of union members' jobs depend on defense spending to produce weapons, tanks, and planes.

But Mr. Kirkland denied that the federation's support through the years for defense spending can be criticized as ``a vast public-works program to provide jobs.''

The council also charged that unemployment is still ``much, much too high with no real hope that they [the Reagan administration] can bring it down.''

The jobless rate rose slightly to 7.4 percent in January, to about the 7.5 percent level of May 1984, with 8.5 million people unemployed. According to the AFL-CIO, there has been a ``dismal'' lack of improvement during the last eight months. Still, the unemployment rate was brought down sharply earlier in the Reagan first term.

The council urged an extension of present limits on automobile imports from Japan, and a ``domestic content'' law that would require fixed percentages of US-manufactured components in automobile and other major imports.

As week-long sessions continued, the council took up the growing problems of the American union movement, seeking ways that organized labor can ``adjust and meet new challenges,'' particularly in the service and high-technology industries.

Union membership has declined, according to Census Bureau figures, from 21.1 million in 1976 to an estimated 17.3 million in 1984. Union officials doubt the figures, but none deny that labor must find ways to halt the downhill slide if it is to maintain its effectiveness.

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