The decision by United Auto Worker President Douglas Fraser to quit the Labor-Management Group this week reflects the explosive deterioration of the nation's industrial relations climate.
For starters, the UAW pullout probably ends any serious hopes the White House may have had for a voluntary wage-price program to control inflation.
It also means the end of the Labor-Management Group.
The group, which consists of 16 of the nation's top corporate and union leaders, is the last major forum left for labor and management leaders to meet privately to discuss common problems. Sources close to the LMG predict that, as a result of the Fraser pullout, the group will never meet again.
But the UAW action has far greater long-range implications for both the labor movement and nation.
"I think we're heading back into a labor relations situation similar to the mid-1920s," one of the nation's top labor relations experts predicts. "Employers are on the upsurge and they're back in control at the bargaining table."
As a result, labor relations experts see the nation's trade unions turning politically to the left in an effort to gain through politics what they can no longer achieve at the bargaining table.
They also see the nation headed into a new era of labor strife. With the nation entering a major new round of collective bargaining next year, one official predicts, "It's going to get rough."
Just how rough is anybody's guess, but Fraser made it clear this week that, if industry wants confrontation, that's precisely what industry will get.
In a letter announcing his resignation from the LMG, Fraser warned: "If corporations like General Motors next year. The UAW leader went out of his way to mention GM and its resistance to union organizing efforts in the South when he listed labor's grievances against the business community.
UAW officials said the union already has $204 million in its strike fund and experts to have $225 million when negotiations with the auto industry start next summer. Contracts between the UAW and the nation's major auto makers expire in the fall of 1979.
Adding credence to the predictions that labor will be moving to the left politically, Fraser said, "I believe leaders of the business community, with few exceptions, have chosen to wage a one-sided class war today in this country - a war against working people, the unemployed, the poor, the minorities, the very young and the very old, and even many in the middle
Among grievances Fraser cited against business were its opposition to such things as increases in the minimum wage, occupational safety and health rules, national health insurances, the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment bill, tax reform and labor law reform.
"There's no point in pretending we have anything in common on the broad issues of the day," Fraser said.
Fraser said his union now will have to begin looking to new political coalitions to solve its problems. Using rhetoric reminiscent of the 1930s, Fraser wrote:
"I would rather sit with the rural poor, the desperate children of urban blight, the victims of racism, and working people seeking a better life than with those whose religion is the status quo, whose goal is profit and whose heart is cold."
While such rhetoric may be expected from the UAW, one of the last vestiges of the old CIO, the importance of Fraser's actions is the potential impact on other unions and the AFL-CIO.
The mounting resentment of the business community is not restricted to the UAW and Fraser. At the AFL-CIO, where challenges to social order seldom have been a major concern, ther is also great discontent with the growing antilabor posture of the business community.
Although an official decision has yet to be made regarding continuing participation in the Labor Management Group by AFL-CIO President George Meany and other AFL-CIO union president, the labor federation is expected to pull out of the group next month when its Executive Council meets in Chicago.
Any formal break with the business community by the AFL-CIO would be a farther reflection of the federation's changing leadership - a leadership that is becoming younger (by AFL-CIO standards) and socially more progressive.
Union leaders such as William Winpisinger of the International Association of Machinists, Glen Watts of the Communications Workers of America and Jerry Wurf of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees long have been preaching the rhetoric of social change. Now, as the industrial relations climate deteriorates, they are apt to find themselves suddenly more persuasive among their peers.
Ironically, some labor relations experts believe the situation will serve to strengthen the political position of AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Lane Kirkland, the man many believe to be the heir apparent to Meany.
Although Kirkland currently is viewed as one of the AFL-CIO's more conservative leaders, he has a long record as an articulate spokesman for traditional social democratic views. Some experts close to the federation see Kirkland re-emerging as a major spokesman for social reform as the current labor discontent begins to take shape both at the bargaining table and in the political arena.