Vice President Mondale told the AFL-CIO today that the Carter administration will not resort to "protectionism" in its effort to shield American jobs from cut-rate foreign competition.
Mondale's warning came in apparent response to AFL-CIO President George Meany's strongly worded call Thursday for import controls that will "do unto others as they do unto us barrier for barrier, closed door for closed door."
Stepping gingerly around a further point of strain in relations between the White House and the AFL-CIO, Mondale made only passing reference to the issue of trade what was obviously an afterthought to his prepared text.
But the message was clear.
One out of every six American jobs depends on exports of American products. Mondale told the huge labor federations's 12th biannual convention, and "protectionism is a threat to all of us."
Without erecting new barriers to "responsible international trade." Mondale said, the administration will take steps to bar the so-called "dumping" of foreign products in this country at prices below their cost of production and transportation - a step it has already taken in proposing minimum price guidelines for steel product imports.
He also reasserted the pledge by chief U.S. trade negotiator Robert S. Strauss to reject any new international trade rules now being negotiated in Geneva if they threaten U.S. jobs. "We will walk away from those talks before we accept a bad deal for the workers of the United States," said Mondale.
While this line drew applause, only silence greeted Mondale's warnings against protectionism, a concept that Meany embraced in his keynote speech and that the convention is expected to endorse next week in a resolution advocating stiff trade controls.
Mondale's reception from the labor crowd was generally enthusiastic, helping overcome have shown toward President Carter. The President has thus far declined to address the gathering - making him the first Democratic President not to have spoken to the AFL-CIO's convention since the federation was formed 22 years ago.
There was no applause when Mondale said he was bringing "greetings from your friend, the President of the United States." Later in his speech, Mondale left out a prepared reference to Carter that would ordinarily have evoked applause from a friendly crowd.
Meany introduced Mondale as the "one man in the administration who really understands what the American trade union movement is all about." After Mondale delivered his speech, which was laden with labor's favorite bell-ringing phrases, an excultant Meany said. "That's as good as trade union speech as I've heard in a long, long time."
Accentuating the positive, Mondale told delegates the Carter administration has restored "friendship" and "candor" to relations between the government and organized labor.
"I wish you could see President Meany and (AFL-CIO Secretary-treasurer) Lane Kirkland talk to our President," said Mondale. "They are very direct and candid. It is not difficult to understand them at all. It is better to have completed your meal quickly."
Mondale cited the administration's backing for a number of labor-supported issues in Congress, including minimum wage increases, job expansion program, urban development and consumer protection. And he elevated House-passed labor law reform legislation to a status it did not appear to have before: "I want you to know that this administration has no higher priority this year than passage of labor law reform in the Senate."
Later in the day, the convention voted to increase Meany's annual salary from $90,000 to $110,000 and Kirkland's from $60,000 to $90,000.