In his op-ed piece "The Democrats and Joe Lunchbucket" {Oct. 29}, Mickey Kaus wrote that "greater income inequality is simply something the Democrats, and the country, are going to have to live with." He's dead wrong on that.

Democrats (and Republicans, for that matter) can successfully fight income inequality by fighting its primary cause -- inequality of opportunity. Millions of Americans are now denied the opportunity to earn a decent living or to get an education that leads to a productive and fulfilling career. Even worse, fewer and fewer of our children will have the opportunity to enjoy a higher standard of living than we do now. Kaus seems to feel there is nothing that Democrats or anyone else can do about this mess, but I disagree.

To begin with, the federal government can increase the number of good-paying jobs through a policy that directs investment toward industries requiring skilled workers and offering growth potential.

As Kaus noted, the wage disparity between skilled and unskilled workers is a primary cause of income inequality. This was due, in large part, to Reagan/Bush economic action -- or inaction -- that led to the decline of U.S. manufacturing and other high-wage industries. In their place, low-paying, low-skilled service jobs sprang up.

This course could be reversed by an industrial policy that reemphasizes the manufacture of high-tech, high-growth, consumer-oriented products, like high-definition television, so that we can compete successfully with highly skilled nations. This industrial policy approach must be accompanied by a commitment to education to produce workers who will have the tools to function in a high-tech economy.

In addition, American labor laws must be reformed. In the '40s, '50s and '60s, unions helped millions of workers raise their incomes to a comfortable level. Unfortunately, current law stacks the deck in favor of management, giving it devastating weapons, like the ability to permanently replace strikers. Without the ability to act collectively, working men and women lose the chance to close the income and opportunity gap.

Ensuring greater opportunity for Americans is no easy task. But it can be done if Democrats rediscover the leadership and "can-do" mentality their party once offered.

-- J. J. Barry The writer is president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.