Is is an effort worthy of at least a small niche in the lobbying hall of fame: George Meany and his legions of plumbers, painters and meatcutters marching arm-in-arm with Gloria Steinem, student activists, real estate agents, social workers and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.
Stunned by rebuffs from both Congress and the White House earlier this year, the AFL-CIO abandoned its previous go-it alone approach to legislation and regrouped in a big way.
Now the somewhat humbled labor federation faces the first major test of its new big-tent style of legislative lobbying when the House, probably later this week, takes up a bill to raise the minimum wage.
For this fight, it has submerged itself into the "Coalition for a Fair Minimum Wage." which embraces 150 or more organizations ranging from hard-hat unions to groups representing blacks, women, Hispanics, urban ethnics, clergy and lay leaders of all major faiths, students youth groups and senior citizens. The chairman is not a labor leader but clarence Mitchell, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
It has also welcomed the support, belatedly, of President Carter, who under pressure from the coalition, agreed to support legislation raising the wage floor from $2.30 to $2.65 next year and providing for automatic annual increases in the future.
"It's been done before but not in such a broad way," said Victor Kamber, a young AFL-CIO official who's been pushing the coalition-lobbying approcah. "Gloria Steinem has never been considered a part of organized labor." added Kamber, smiling.
According to kamer, the coalition was set up after President Carter angered meany last March by proposing to raise the wage floor from $2.30 to $2.50 and pegging future increases to 50 per cent of average manufacturing wages - a far cry from the $3 and 60 per cent sought by organized labor.
The bad news from Carter came only one day after the House unexpectedly torpedoed a bill to expand unions' picketing rights at construction sites, which labor had trotted out first because it has passed before and was considered an easy victory.
"It was a case of labor all by itself, ill-prepared and following a very poor strategic and tactical plan." said Al Zack. AFL-CIO public relations director. "The one-two blow made it quite apparent that we had to mount a major effort (for future legislative battles: and the coalition was the result," added Zack.
Zack credited the coalition with convincing Carter to raise his proposal to $2.65 and 53 per cent by 1980, levels quickly embraced by Meany and his assorted allies. "We in the labor movement can talk about compassion and all that, but when the blacks, the Chicanos, the women and the clergy talk about it, it's different," said Zack.
There was also "a question of whether labor's image was so bad that we would scare people away." said Kamber.But that didn't happen, he said, because unions took the role of "Working partners" in the coalition rather than ringleaders.
While the construction unions took the House largely for granted, concentrating on the Senate on the very day that the picketing bill came before the House, organized labor and its allies caught the opposition off guard this time, moving quickly after the Carter compromise was disclosed two weeks ago.
Yesterday congressional foes of the measure rallied before the House Rules Committee in an unsuccessful effort to get the issue shelved at least until after the August recess. A small-business lobbyist who helped organize the mini-filibuster said the opposition needed more time to make its case, accusing the leadership of trying to "railroad" the bill through the House.
Although an increase in the wage floor is expected to be approved, several major elements of the bill remain in doubt.
According to both labor and business sources, the major battlegounds will be:
An effort by Republicans, conservative Democrats and an undetermined number of other Democrats concerned over youth unemployment to amend the bill to include a "subminimum" for young workers, enabling employers to hire people aged 21 or less at 75, 85 or some other percentage of the wage floor.
An attack on the so-called "indexing" provision, under which Congress would no longer set a dollar-and-cents figure but would tie he wage floor to a certain percentage of average wages - which has been labeled as a congressional "cop-out" by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other foes of the measure.
An attempt to whittle down the $2.65 base, although lobbyists for soms business groups concede that Carter's support for the figure makes such a fight difficult.
Another major battle is expected over a provision, written into the Carter-coalition compromise by the House Education and Labor Committee, to increase the wages that must be paid to workers who receive tips . They must now be paid only half the minimum wage on the assumption they get at least $1.15 an hour in tips: the bill would reduce the tip "credit" to $1 after 1980.
The administration opposes the change and the coalition is leaving that fight to groups that are most concerned about it.