Leadership of the United Auto Workers honored four visiting "trade unionists" from the Soviet Union not long after turning away a leading Soviet dissident, pointing up a deep ideological cleavage in the American labor movement.
On Sept. 28, four members of Soviet "trade unions" lunched with UAW brass at Solidarity House, the union's headquarters in Detroit. About two weeks earlier. UAW leaders could not find time to see Ukrainian dissident Leonid Plyushch. A respected mathematician expelled from the Soviet Union in 1976 after four years' imprisonment, Plyushch now lives in Paris and was making an American tour.
The UAW's poistion is the direct opposite of George Meany's and complicates the auto union's possible return to the AFL-CIO. The Carter administration authorized visas for Communist trade unionists over the objections of Meany, who considers Soviet labor leaders to be mere governemnt stooges. Meany has championed exiles from Communist oppression, and AFL-CIO officials helped Plyushch with his itinerary.
The four visiting Russians, labeled as ordinary workers but obviously hand-picked by the KGB, began their U.S. trip in Chicago Sept. 23 singing the praises of life in the Soviet Union. "We work very hard and are very well paid," declared coal miner Andrei Gatsenko, adding that miners make more than doctors and can retire with half pay at age 50.
AFO-CIO headquarters naturally was not informed of the itinerary, which had been arranged by an outfit called Trade Unions for Action and Democracy (TUAD) - formed in 1970 in close collaboration with the U.S. Communist Party. The visiting Russians were met in Chicago by UAW regional officials and visited Steelworkers Local 1033 (which is the satrapy of Steelworkers maverick leader Ed Sadlowski).
Sadlowski's heutenants arranged for the Soviets to lay a wreath at a plaque commemorating the 1937 massacre in Chicago of Republic Steel Company employees seeking to organize a union. To anti-Communists at AFL-CIO headquarters, identification of KGB puppets with bona fide trade-union martyrs borders on sacrilege. From Chicago, the Russians went to Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and New York - meeting such anti-Meany unionists as the mine workers and meatcutters.
Emil Mazey, UAW secretary-treasurer, told us his union long has favored visits from Soviet trade unionists because "the only way you can relax the cold war is to establish relations between people." As for the Detroit visit of the dissident Plyushch, Mazey told us, "I wasn't able to meet him" for lack of time. However, he was distinctly unenthusiastic about Ukrainian nationalists (separating the Ukraine from Russian would be like "trying to unscramble an egg") and suggested a solution was for them to "leave the country."
UAW reunion with the AFL-CIO while Emil Mazey and George Meany still hold high positions has always generated skepticism. Their conflicting views on visitors from Russia shows why.
Rising fears by big business that the departure of Bert Lance has cost them their only important entree to the Carter administration reached an embarrassing climax in the White House Sept. 23, with Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal listening.
Those fears were stated bluntly by DuPont's Irving Shapiro, one of 10 business leaders meeting that day with President Carter. Acknowledging Blumenthal's presence (and also that of Commerce Secretary Juanita Kreps), Shapiro told Carter that American business is afraid it will no longer find a "sympathetic" ear in Washington.
Normally, the Secretary of the Treasury is the President's chief emissary to the business world. Thus, Shapiro's clear implication: Blumenthal, an expert on foreign trade and finance, is not regarded as being all that knowlegeable about the special problems of business executives (though he was the highly successful head of the Bendix Corporation.)
The lament over Lance's departure was reported in a press briefing by Shapiro and General Electric's Reginald Jones. Not reported was the feeling of every business leader there that the incident conveyed this message to the Secretary of the Treasury with the President sitting in: Sorry, Mr. President, but we feel we cannot count on Mike Blumenthal to get our problems across to you.
Carter is trying to show the country he wants to work more closely with business. Although the executives wanted the Sept. 23 session (their first with the President himself) kept private. Carter gave it full publicity.
When the President walked into the meeting, he astonished the barons of business by saying that all of them were undoubtedly "more qualified" to be President than he.