On Nov. 9, 1993, in his first major victory as vice president, Al
Gore proudly trounced Ross Perot in a debate on the North American
Free Trade Agreement, which soon passed Congress despite strong
Yet six years later, in the wake of union-led protests that
helped derail the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle,
Mr. Gore as a Democratic presidential contender faces mounting
pressure to temper his free-trade views and lock elbows with
With Gore counting on unions for money and manpower, the new
tension carries risks: It could make labor's support more tenuous or
prod Gore away from centrist positions on the economy - making him
more vulnerable to Republican attack.
For now, Gore is moving to sympathize with the Seattle
demonstrators. In recent days, he has calibrated his free-trader
credentials by stressing the need to balance trade growth with
stronger labor, human rights, and environmental standards.
Free trade is good for America if it is "pursued properly" by
giving "more attention to labor rights and environmental protection
than we have in the past," Gore told undecided voters gathered at a
Portsmouth, N.H., high school gym last weekend.
"The peaceful protesters were trying to make some points that I
think have some validity," he said, although he added he does not
share all the protesters' views.
Gore is counting heavily on unions, and to a lesser extent on
environmental groups that joined the 30,000-strong anti-WTO
coalition, for vital support in his presidential campaign. The AFL-
CIO endorsed him in September.
In terms of contributions, organized labor is giving far more to
Gore than to any other presidential candidate, according to the
Center for Responsive Politics here. Equally important is union
support in grass-roots canvassing. "Union members are the hands that
stuff the envelopes and the voices that make the phone calls," says
Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell
University in Ithaca, N.Y.
For their part, unions are seeking to maximize their political
clout with Gore by leveraging their self-proclaimed victory in
Seattle's trade-talk breakdown.
"Gore ... is going to have to come to grips with what took place
in Seattle," says George Becker, president of United Steelworkers of
America (USWA), who helped lead protests calling for the inclusion
of labor rights in trade accords.
"The vice president has to separate himself from the past
policies [of President Clinton] and come out stronger on the side of
working people," says Mr. …