AFL-CIO President George Meany, in response to a personal appeal from President Carter, said today he plans to mobilize the federation's 13.5 million members as retail price monitors for the administration's anti-inflation effort.
Scofing at reported misgivings within the White House about vigilante squads roaming supermarket aisles, Meany said be was "sure the housewives would be glad to form vigilante groups," and added, "Even if he [Carter] don't like the plan we may go ahead with it anyway. I think it's a good idea.'
Meany disclosed his latest approach to Carter's anti-inflation program at a news conference that threatened, for a time, to be dominated by questions about an AFL-CIO Executive Council member's suggestion that Meany tone down his criticism of Carter and consider retiring into an emeritus role.
At a breakfast with reporters, Sol Chaikin, president of the 350,000-member International Ladies' Garment Workers Union and an influential Meany loyalist on the council, said he thinks "it behooves us to be a little more judicious" in criticizing Carter to avoid what he called a mutually harmful rift between a Democratic administration and the AFL-CIO.
Without suggesting that the 83-year-old Meany actually retire, Chaikin said he thought the federation should consider creating a "position like chairman of the board" for Meany and other aging labor leaders who still have a contribution to make to the union movement.
Asked about Chaikin's suggestion, Meany told reporters, "I haven't the slightest idea what you're talking about. They [the AFL-CIO unions] have a chairman of the board. Here he is."
As for retiring, Meany said, "Im thinking about it all the time. I've been thinking abou it for a number of years, and I'll keep thinking about it for a number of years."
Meany, who sharply criticized Carter's foreign and domestic policies yesterday as the Executive Council opened its week-long winter neeting here, also defended his right to speak his mind about Carter.
He suggested, almost as an aside, that Carter might not be all that displeased with what he had to say, which included qualified wupport for the administration's "real wage insurance" program to protect workers who comply with wage restraint guidelines.
"I don't think he [Carter] was ordained by the Almighty," said Meany. "I think he's human and makes some mistakes, and, frankly, I will continue to comment on those mistakes. The funny part of it is that the president don't seem to be upset about it. I talked to him yesterday and he was quite pleasant about things..."
Pressed to elaborate, Meany did so cheerfully, saying that Carter had called him to ask for his cooperation in trying to keep prices down. The AFL-CIO has repeatedly denounced the administration's voluntary anti-inflation policy, charging that it holds down wages while exerting no effective restraint on prices.
Meany said he told Carter he had already written Alfred E. Kahn, the administration's chief anti-inflation adviser, proposing to enlist volunteers from union ranks to monitor retail prices in supermarkets and elsewhere.
"So I told the president that, and he said that was very good," Meany recalled, adding that Carter is arranging a meeting shortly between AFL-CIO officials and Vice President Mondale, Labor Secretary Ray Marshall and White House domestic policy adviser Stuart Eizenstat to draft a plan for an AFL-CIO role in the anti-inflation campaign against price increases.
Meany said he expects the volunteer "shock troops" as one AF-CIO official dubbed them, to report cases of excessive price increases to the AFL-CIO, which would then publicize the results and turn them over to Kahn for action.
After first suggesting somewhat derisively that the White House would probably respond with a speech, Meany said, "I'm quite sure we'll get much more than a speech... I'm quite sure the president will do something.'
Reminded that Kahn at one point said he didn't want to encourage vigilante efforts, Meany said, "I don't have the same reservations abouot offending the ousiness community that Mr. Kahn does."
AFL-CIO public relations director Albert J. Zack denied that Meany, who has called for across-the-board economic controls as preferable to the administration's voluntary guidelines, was simply trying to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the voluntary approach. "It may help make the program work," Zack said.
Meany said he got the impression that Carter shared his belief that price restraints are not working. "I get the impression the price side [of the anti-inflation program] isn't working, and I get the impression the president has the impression that the price side isn't working," said Meany.
Chaikin's comments on Meany followed a similar chiding from another Executive Council member, Glenn E. Watts, president of the Communications Workers of America, who told reporters in December that Meany was doing a "tremendous disservice to both the country and the labor movement" by his continual attacks on Carter. Watts stood virtually alone in his criticism of Meany until today.