On the eve of the announcement of President Carter's reworked anti-inflation program, leaders of three dozen consumer and labor groups yesterday denounced the White House plan and launched a campaign of their own.
The consumer-labor coalition said it will fight to hold down price increased in four basic areas food, housing, energy and health.
These "Big Four" are what 30 percent of the people spend 70 percent of their money on the group said. Prices in these areas also have been climbing faster than for other consumer items, having jumped 11.6 percent in the last six months compared with 5.6 percent for nonnecessities.
Called Consumers Opposed to Inflation in the Necessities (COIN), the campaign will be part publicity and part political pressure.
The group's membership list includes a broad assortment of activist associations, ranging from the Consumer Federation of America and the Friends of the Earth to the United Auto Workers and the AFL-CIO.
The campaign is based on the belief that today's inflation is not amenable to wage and price guidelines, rising interest rates and other attemps to restrain demand. The current inflation, COIN's organizers say, is not the result of too much demand pushing up prices, or too much government spending, or even excessive wage increases.
This inflation, they insist, is the result of greedy, powerful corporations.
"It's just a matter of facing up to the market power of major companies," said consumer advocate Ralph Nader during a press conference yesterday.
COIN's campaigners blame the high cost of medicine on insurance companies and doctor cartels. They blame high food prices on the monopoly power of food processors, grain dealers and other corporate middlemen.They blame expensive energy on big oil companies and powerful utilities.
And they blame the high cost of housing on high interest rates that are encouraged by the banking lobby.
"Our banks are reaping huge profits as Americans go deeper and deeper into debt," declared J. C. Turner, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers.
But the group said that showing price rises in these four necessities wild require bold government action and no small degree of political courage - courage that several consumer and labor leaders' charged yesterday is lacking in both the White House and Congress.
"They have put the burden of fighting inflation on the victims rather than the corporate perpetrators," asserted Nader, citing a "need for a new citizen base in this country to fight inflation."
The basic necessities - or sectural - approach to fighting inflation has been championed by Gar Alperovitx, an economist and codirector of the Exploratory Project for Economic Alternatives. Alpervoitx has suggested more than 100 programs to lessen what he describes as the excessive economic and political power of the corporations, from national health insurance to controls on oil and gas prices.
The Carter administration is not likely to embrace COIN, but top White House officials have been reading the same economic writing on the wall.