FRESH from a rousing, sign-waving convention hall, where
presidential candidate Bill Clinton has just delivered a major
speech, Vito de Leonardis is upbeat.
Union teachers will support Mr. Clinton, he says. "They feel we
have a chance this time."
Sandra Thompson, a fellow delegate here at the American
Federation of Teachers convention, puts it another way: "Unions,
anymore, are trying to pull together."
The mood in Pittsburgh reflects the broad sentiments among
United States unions. The labor movement is having a semi-sweet
For the first time in 12 years, union workers have a realistic
shot at helping elect a Democrat to the White House. But it is not
the Democrat that many unions wanted. The bitter realization is
that organized labor is playing a diminished role in Democratic
politics this year. Gone are the days of traditional Democrats like
Walter Mondale. When he ran for president in 1984, reporters asked
if he had a single policy difference with the AFL-CIO. Mr. Mondale
couldn't think of any.
Clinton is different. He is not only more conservative on
economic issues than most unions; he is not afraid to say so, labor
observers say. Before the American Federation of State, County, and
Municipal Employees, he promised to cut 100,000 federal jobs over
eight years. That didn't affect the union directly; it does not
represent federal workers. But it drew a worried letter from the
American Federation of Government Employees, which does.
Here in Pittsburgh this week, Clinton acknowledged past
differences with the American Federation of Teachers, which backed
Clinton enthusiastically and early. "But you are going to know that
every day I am going to get up with a burning desire to improve
education in America," he said. Delegates cheered.
"I don't get any sense from the guy that he's anti-union," says
Irving Bernstein, a respected labor historian and professor
emeritus of political science at the University of California, Los
Angeles. "But he has made the calculation that when you're running
for president, even as a Democrat, you don't have to pay special
attention" to labor's issues.
If professional and white-collar unions have a few quibbles with
Clinton, industrial unions are stuck with major policy differences:
Clinton supports the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Industrial unions do not. Clinton comes from a state with a
"right-to-work" law (considered anti-union), and he has done little
to change that. …