President Carter said yesterday he will appoint leaders of business and labor to an Economic Revitalization Board to help plan the future course of a long-range program of industrial renewal.
Lane Kirkland, AFL-CIO president, and Irving S. Shapiro, chairman of E.I. du Pont deNemours & Co., are selected to head the board and are the only members chosen so far.
Shapiro called the board "the beginning of the end of the adversarial relationship that business, particularly, and labor have had with government." He held out the hope that in time cooperative action among business, labor and the government could produce solutions to the entrenched problems of inflation, industrial stagnation and environmental hazards.
The board's first moves will be more modest and limited, the president's statement indicated. Its first assignment will be to design plans for a new "industrial development authority," an agency proposed by Carter as the spearhead of an industrial revitalization program. The agency would draw on pension funds and other public and private private capital to create jobs in areas like the Midwest hit-hard by plant closings, but its specific powers were left up to the board to decide.
In other words, the administration at this point was able to establish a industrial planning group but not an action agency to begin the process of revitalization.
In political terms, the president's proposal responds to the AFL-CIO's call for a top-level advisory committee of industry and labor but delays even the first moves on the controversial agenda of economic issues until after the presidential election.
It is doubtful whether the administration could have gone farther, with the presidential election just over two months away. Shapiro said that he expected to have no difficulty in recruiting business leaders to serve on the board, even though most of the likely candidates are backing Carter's Republican opponent, Ronald Reagan. (Shapiro is one of the rare Democrats in that circle.) But recruiting business leaders to an action agency would have been far more difficult because of the proximity of the election , administration officials noted.
The DuPont chairman said he and Kirkland have been assured that they will be able to go over the appointments to the board with the president before selections are made. "Unless you field the right team, the whole effort is meaningless," Shapiro said.
Admnistraiton officials, who have worked for more than a year to make industrial revitalization a visible part of the Carter economic policy, called yesterday's announcement a major achievement, predicting the board can play a large role in determining economic policies in a second term, if Carter is reelected.
Kirkland said yesterday that establishment of the board "will make labor and management partners with their government" in the revitalization process. The AFL-CIO had urged the president to create a much larger, more powerful board, which would review the problems of critical industries and assess the needs of economically depressed regions of the country.
The AFL-CIO also looked to the board as a potential force in negotiating a national anti-inflation policy and wage and price restraint.
Where the board will actually head under Shapiro's and Kirkland's leadership is an open question.
Labor, management and government still approach common economic and environmental problems from different directions, as the reactions from the various sides yesterday made plain.
Philip Caldwell, chairman of Ford Motor Co., praised the effort to improve industry and labor cooperation -- and stressed that paring back government regulations affecting the automobile should be a primary concern.
Thomas A. Murphy, chairman of General Motors, called for a "cooperative effort to address the problem of excessive regulation."
To some business leaders, the president's total plan was too long on words and short on deeds. C. William Verity Jr., chairman of Armco Inc., a major steel company, and president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, called the president's total program a "disappointingly small step toward a very large problem." His preference is for a substantial corporate tax reduction coupled with looser federal regulation. Other steel executives are suspicious, as well, that the president's actions yesterday amount to a step toward coordinated industrial planning.
Other leaders, however, believe that continued battles in Congress and the courts between industry and labor over division of the federal tax dollar, occupational health rules, other regulations and other issues hold little hope of progress. They point instead to the slow, but steady progress toward common solutions achieved this year by labor, industry and government committees dealing with the specific problems of the steel and auto industries.