Hit by Slump, Labor Gives Bush Raspberry

Article excerpt

ORGANIZED labor will campaign for the Clinton-Gore ticket in the presidential election.

That is no surprise. But according to Markley Roberts, an AFL-CIO economist, trade unions will be more unified this year in their support of Democratic candidates than they were in the elections of the 1980s. "The unions have no basis for feeling positive about the Bush administration," he said in a telephone interview.

The General Board of the union federation was scheduled to meet yesterday. Mr. Roberts expected the 95 presidents of the member unions at that gathering to vote unanimously to support Bill Clinton - including the Teamsters and some others who have in the past backed a Republican candidate.

As Roberts recalls, about 60 percent of union members voted for Walter Mondale in the 1984 election when Ronald Reagan, a popular Republican president, was running for reelection. He expects a larger proportion of the 16.57 million union members in the United States to vote Democratic in November.

But does organized labor have much political clout anymore?

Union members, after all, now account for only 16.1 percent of those employed full time. That proportion used to be about 35 percent in the 1950s. Since then trade unions have been hit hard by a decline in manufacturing employment as manufacturers increased labor productivity or assigned production to plants abroad. They have also been clobbered by the financial restructuring of some companies, by tough anti-union managements, by the growth of service industries, and other business trends.

Yes, Roberts replies, "Labor does make a difference." The trade unions still have a huge political action force, with thousands of volunteers helping with voter drives and other activities. "We are the most organized and unified of any lobbying and political group," he says. "A lot of our members are convinced their activities can make a difference in the election. This is one of the strengths of American democracy."

It hasn't been an easy year for labor. Unemployment in July was 7.7 percent. August figures are to be released today. Economists do not expect any major change - perhaps a 0. …