Labor Still Angry over Nafta, Union Official Says

Article excerpt

THE PRESIDENT is to blame for the rift with organized labor over the North American Free Trade Agreement and is in danger of losing support on health care and other issues, a labor leader said Sunday.

"I can't exaggerate the depth of feeling on the issue," AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Thomas R. Donahue said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"This issue burned deeper into the minds and hearts of working people all across the country than any issue in recent memory," Donahue said.

Donahue said organized labor, which opposed NAFTA out of concern that jobs would be lost to Mexico, tried hard to keep the debate on the issues.

"The president took what I described as a cheap shot at us. That's how the acrimonious part of this fight begins."

Clinton accused labor of using "roughshod and muscle-bound" tactics to defeat NAFTA. AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland in turn charged that Clinton had abdicated his role as leader of the Democratic Party. The free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada cleared the Senate Saturday after passing the House Wednesday.

(In the Senate's 61-38 vote Saturday, all four senators from Missouri and Illinois voted for the pact.)

Donahue said there was now less enthusiasm for Clinton's health-care plan because people "feel badly let down" on NAFTA.

"We've gone into a phase of slowing down a little bit," he said. It's not a question of letting bygones be bygones, he said. …