For '94 Election, Labor Questions Ties to Democrats Feeling Betrayed, Some Unions Refuse to Back Any Democrat Who Voted for Free-Trade Pact

By John Dillin, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 4, 1994 | Go to article overview

For '94 Election, Labor Questions Ties to Democrats Feeling Betrayed, Some Unions Refuse to Back Any Democrat Who Voted for Free-Trade Pact


John Dillin, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


GRUMPY and restless, big labor unions are expressing keen disappointment with President Clinton and the Democratic Congress.

Despite the president's enduring support for national health care - a perennial labor goal - Mr. Clinton has angered many workers on other issues, including free trade and striker replacement.

Union frustration casts a pall over Democratic prospects in the 1994 congressional elections. Heavy losses by the party could hamper the president during the final two years of his term.

Yet Peter diCicco, secretary-treasurer of the Industrial Union Department, AFL-CIO, suggests it may be time for workers to look beyond the Democratic Party for allies. He says:

"We have been held captive by the Democratic Party for a long time. We {felt} that we must always, always, always support the Democrat.... But the Democrats that are in control now are not Democrats who see a future for the American labor movement."

Electrical union President William Bywater complains that on trade and jobs, "I'm beginning to wonder what's the difference between their {the Democrats'} position and the Republicans' position."

Don Radford, secretary-treasurer of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO, says his union has refused to endorse the local Democratic congressman for reelection, even though that decision may put a Republican into office. The Democrat, Rep. David Mann of Ohio, voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

All this labor indignation comes at a critical moment. Burdened by the president's sinking popularity, Democrats are struggling to retain their majority in the Senate. They are also at risk of losing ideological control of the House of Representatives, where conservative Democrats often team up with Republicans.

Mr. Bywater says despite the political risks, his International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers will no longer line up instinctively behind Democrats.

"We are supporting only those people who supported us and are against NAFTA.... We have manpower, and we will use it," he vows.

Tough talk aside, however, political analysts say the unions are in an awkward political position.

"I think they are painted into a corner," says Earl Black, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston."Democrats can't win anymore, as they once did in the 1930s, by simply uniting all Democrats, including unions.

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