President Clinton has said labor unions and their allies are using "roughshod, muscle-bound tactics" to defeat the North American Free Trade Agreement. Jim Jontz, leader of the Citizens Trade Alliance -- a coalition of labor unions, environmental and consumer organizations opposed to NAFTA -- responds that those tactics are a form of "tough love."

"Frankly, our people are the ones the {House} members depend on. . . . We're your friend. NAFTA is not good for the district, it's not good for your political future. It's not a case of threatening, it's a case of trying to steer members away from danger," Jontz said.

But beyond the power struggles and the accusations of heavy-handed tactics by both sides, NAFTA has not only touched a profoundly sensitive nerve within the Democratic Party, it is also leaving hurt feelings on both sides.

Last week, for example, Rep. Bob Clement (D-Tenn.) announced that he will join the pro-NAFTA forces. "I would like to think they {labor unions} are not going to hold this 'one-day, one-vote rule,' " said Clement, who represents Nashville. But his decision has left a deep residue of bitterness among some of the labor leaders who supported him in the past.

"Bob led us to believe at a state legislative conference in September that he was going to vote against NAFTA in its present form," said Beverly Hicks, president of Nashville Local 3808 of the Communication Workers of America. "When I make a commitment to working men and women, I keep it."

On the other side of the fight, the intensity of the union drive to defeat NAFTA has left Rep. Mike Kopetski (D-Ore.), a NAFTA supporter with a generally pro-labor record, angry and resentful. "I'm an adult, I can take the shots," he said, but "labor has poisoned the well for a lot of members who are their friends." Kopetski, who has announced his retirement, described labor's attacks as "personal, insulting and vindictive."

Organized labor is putting up an exceptionally unified front in its battle to defeat NAFTA, but the solid opposition of unions allied with the AFL-CIO masks a wide range of intensity.

It is primarily private sector unions, especially manufacturing unions, that see NAFTA as crushing U.S. jobs and decimating their membership.

In the 18 years from 1975 to 1993, when the U.S. marketplace began to open to competition from Asia, Europe and Latin America, membership in the steelworkers union has collapsed from 1.1 million to 421,000, the Teamsters from 2.4 million to 1.3 million, the machinists from 780,000 to 474,000 and the garment workers from 363,000 to 133,000.

House Republican Whip Newt Gingrich (Ga.), a NAFTA supporter, said labor's opposition "has nothing to do with the facts." Instead, he said, it is "emotional, spiritual" for unions, who have seen their power and influence decline.

Mark Anderson, chair of the AFL-CIO's task force on trade, disagreed: "Many people here in Washington have grievously misjudged the depth of feeling people have on this issue. . . . Some issues are top-down, others are bottom-up. This is clearly a bottom-up issue."

The decision whether to use NAFTA as a litmus test for endorsements is up to union and AFL-CIO locals, Anderson said. If unions decide "not to endorse an individual who voted against what they consider to be their vital interests, that is not particularly surprising to me, and I am not sure why it should be surprising to anyone else."

Organized labor is the single most important source of cash for House and Senate Democratic candidates. It plays a crucial role providing early backing to Democratic challengers and open-seat contenders who have trouble raising money from other sources.

In 1991-92, according to the Federal Election Commission, labor organizations gave a total of $41.3 million to candidates of both parties, compared to $68.4 million by corporate political action committees, and $53.7 million by such trade and health associations as the National Rifle Association, the American Medical Association and the Realtors. Democratic candidates received $39 million from labor, $34.4 million from corporate PACs and $31.2 million from trade and health associations.

In lobbying against NAFTA, Matt Witt, director of communications for the Teamsters, which gave $2.4 million to federal candidates in 1991-92, said the agreement has not been made a "hard and fast" test of whether endorsements or contributions will be made:

"What we have said to {House} members is 'this isn't a question of negotiating with the leaders of the union over campaign contributions. This is a question of can you expect to get the support of our members at the polls, and if our members don't see you reversing the economic policies of the last 12 years you are not going to get their support.' "

In terms of lobbying, labor has formed a complex alliance against NAFTA with the more liberal wings of the environmental, consumer and farm movements.

Before and after she announced her decision for NAFTA, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) experienced an extraordinary range of pressures and sanctions in an unsuccessful drive to push her into the "no" column.

Before the decision, Greenpeace-USA set up a portable kitchen outside a federal building in San Francisco when Pelosi was inside, and began to distribute waffles to passersby. The protesters put up tape similar to that police use at crime scenes, declaring the area a "no-waffle zone."

When Pelosi went to NAFTA discussion meetings on Sept. 18, anti-NAFTA forces filled the rooms to overflow. A group called "Artists Against NAFTA" distributed a poster of Pelosi standing on a fence, with corporate bankers, polluters and other "interests" offering her checks on one side, while black, Latino and white children plaintively sought her vote on the other.

And when Pelosi announced her decision, the campaign did not stop.

"Even though you are considered a safe district, we will not forget," Walter Johnson, secretary-treasurer of the San Francisco Labor Council, wrote Pelosi. "Words failed to express our revulsion of your action. We cannot let such turncoat action, against workers, go unanswered."

Craig Merrilees, director of the California Free Trade Campaign, said his group regularly sends a protester to Pelosi's office dressed "as the grim reaper, slowly passing backing and forth . . . with a sign 'NAFTA Is Coming.' "