AFL-CIO President George Meany called on the Carter administration today to abandon free trade as "a joke and a myth," urging instead a strict imports-control policy that would "do unto others as they do to us, barrier for barrier, closed door for closed door."
In his keynote address to the labor federation's biennial convention here, Meany signaled the start of a major union campaign for passage of legislation to set quotas on imports threatening U.S. jobs.
The draft of such a proposal - reportedly stronger than a quotas bill the AFL-CIO promoted several years ago - is being prepared and is expected to be approved before the week-long convention ends Tuesday.
Faced with the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs to low-cost imports, organized labor has been moving away from its stand in favor of free trade, and Meany's strong words today underscored labor's new protectionist posture.
"The old rules about foreign trade no longer apply," Meany told the 1,600 convention delegates and guests. "In this era of closed economics and multinational corporations who operate like the Barbary piartes, the United States sticks stubbornly to old policies that are no longer appropriate or workable. And the situation is going from bad to worse."
Without spelling out the details, Meany set these criteria: "Imports must be regulated. Anti-dumping laws [against foreign products sold below their cost in this country] must be swiftly enforced. Tax breaks that encourage U.S. firms to go abroad must be canceled."
Defining foreign trade as a kind of "guerrilla warfare of economics" in which the U.S. economy is being "ambushed," Meany said:
"Free trade today is a joke and a myth. And a government trade policy predicated on old ideas of free trade is worse than a joke. It is a prescription for disaster. The answer is fair trade - do unto others as they do to us, barrier for barrier, closed door for closed door."
Using a carrot-and-stick approach toward the administration, Meany applauded President Carter for making "broad new proposals reversing eight years of negative leadership in the White House" while prodding him to do more to expand employment and control trade.
To flesh out its commitment to the Humphrey-Hawkins full-employment bill. Meany said the administration should set a goal of 4 million new jobs a year for the next four years, which he said would have the effect of expanding the labor market by about 20 per cent.
"Unless the administration is honestly willing to make such a commitment and back it up with an economic stimulus program that won't be cut in half at the last minute, neither goal [full employment or a balanced budget] will be met." Meany said in a barbed reference to the administration's dropping its proposed $50-per-person tax rebate.
Relations between Carter and the AFL-CIO remain distant. Departing from the tradition of Democratic Presidents of addressing the federation's conventions, either in person or by telephone. Carter sent a brief, written message by way of Labor Secretary Ray Marshall expressing appreciation for the AFL-CIO's support and suggestion for the AFL-CIO's support and suggestion that their agreements outweight their disagreements.
The delegates got one surprise phone call from Washington today: A pep talk from Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey (D-Minn.), who is suffering from inoperable cancer. And they responded enthusiastically to welcoming remarks from someone who might challenge Carter in 1980 if he falters, California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.
But the centerpiece was Meany, who, at 83, is expected to be re-elected to head the 13.5 million-member federation next week despite some behind-the-scenes grumbling that he should step down in favor of younger leadership.