The leader of a major AFL-CIO union said yesterday there was "no justification" for George Meany's attacks on President Carter's economic policies and charged that Meany's attitude does "a tremendous disservice to both the country and the labor movement."
The criticism came from Glenn E. Watts, president of the 525,000-member Communications Workers of America and an influential moderate on the AFL-CIO executive council. It represented a rare public rebuke to the federation president from one of his allies.
Meany in recent weeks has condemned the Carter administration's voluntary wage-price guidelines and has criticized the president personally for being "no liberal."
"I do not understand it," said Watts. "I cannot explain it. I think it is very damaging... It has done a tremendous disservice to the country and the labor movement."
Watts made it clear at a luncheon with reporters that his criticism was aimed at what he called "Meany's estrangement" from the White House, and not just at the specifics of the dispute on wage-price controls.
Watts said he went along with the executive council statement of opposition to the guidelines, but dissented from the rhetoric accusing the Carter administration of breaking its commitments by instituting such indirect controls.
He said his union had told several small employers it would accept the 7 percent wage guideline, provided the companies contractually accepted a 5.5 percent ceiling on their price inbcreases, but had found no one willing to sign such an agreement.
Watts, who has maintained close personal ties with the White House, said he thought it important that organized labor be consulted on Carter's upcoming budget and economic policy decisions.
"The situation between the labor movement and the administration is such that it's very hard to do this," he said, "except on a union-by-union basis. The problem is on our side... The chief spokesman for labor has moved into a position of such estrangement from the administration" that consultation has become impossible, Watts said.
Watts said Meany's attitude was "hurting, not helping," labor's image in the country.
A spokesman for the federation president said Meany would have no comment. But the spokesman blamed the breakdown in communications on Carter, saying that when Meany had sought a meeting before Carter announced his wage-price guidelines, it was refused.
Watts said he thought the problem was that "the chemistry" of the two men "just doesn't mix. Mr. Meany is not fond of discussing and debating policy with people."
Answering another question, Watts said "there would be nothing wrong" with the 84-year-old Meany's retiring, but added he was neither suggesting nor expecting such a step.
Watts said he would like to make a nominating speech for AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Lane Kirkland to succeed Meany. But, nothing that his own union's constitution requires him to retire in six years when he reaches 65, Watts said: "I don't expect I'll have the opportunity to nominate Lane."