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USW Tries Again For Democrat In White House

July 31, 1988

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Leaders of the United Steelworkers of America convene their biennial convention Monday in Las Vegas to take another crack at helping put a Democrat in the White House.

″There’s no question about the support for Dukakis,″ said Gary Hubbard, aide to USW President Lynn Williams.

But the USW is not as populous as it used to be - membership has tumbled from 1.4 million in 1976 to 650,000 now - and there is debate about how much influence the union leadership exerts over its members.

Furthermore, political analysts inside and outside the USW say the campaign organization of Democrat Michael Dukakis is not eager to wear a union label to the November election against Vice President George Bush.

Dukakis will address the Las Vegas convention Thursday in person or by satellite video. The union will express its preference but will not formally endorse a candidate, Hubbard said.

The USW’s contracts with most major steelmakers do not expire until next year, and a four-year pact with the biggest producer, USX, runs into 1890, leaving internal union business and presidential politics to dominate the convention.

The AFL-CIO, of which the USW is the 11th largest member, has told its member unions to defer endorsing Dukakis until the AFL-CIO’s general board makes its endorsement in late August.

The umbrella organization’s early endorsement of Walter Mondale during the 1984 Democratic primary hurt the presidential candidate even before he faced Ronald Reagan, and neither Dukakis nor organized labor wants to repeat that mistake, said Ben Fischer, a former assistant to four USW presidents and now director of labor studies at Carnegie-Mellon University.

″The people who didn’t have the unions’ backing...had to tar Mondale as the candidate of special interests,″ said Fischer. ″When the Republicans do that you take it for granted. When the Democrats start doing that you start listening.″

Dukakis is ″trying to do this balancing rope job of on one hand having the leadership but on the other hand not allowing too close of an identification,″ Fischer said.

But Hubbard disputed that an early endorsement by organized labor necessarily was harmful.

″We’ve seen no liability from early endorsement largely because we put forth such enormous energy in all the traditional activities to get out the vote. That includes phone banking and door knocking. The numbers prove the enormous participation of organized workers, particularly steelworkers, versus unorganized workers,″ Hubbard said.

Dukakis is appealing directly to members ″not through endorsements but through his support for traditional values,″ said Ted Windt, a University of Pittsburgh communications professor and specialist in presidential rhetoric.Windt said. ″It’s a very adroit strategy.″

Appealing directly to union members may be more effective anyway, Windt and Fischer said.

″The solidarity between the leadership and the rank and file...doesn’t mean what it did back in the 1950s or 60s,″ said Windt. He cited the 1972 election, in which Gallup polls indicated 54 percent of families of labor union members voted for Richard Nixon’s re-election, while 46 percent voted for the Democrat, George McGovern.

″That was a real crossover by the rank and file,″ Windt said.

In 1968 Hubert Humphrey got 56 percent of the union families’ votes against 29 for Nixon, and the 15 percent that George Wallace received ″was kind of a transition to Nixon,″ he said.

Jimmy Carter got 63 percent of their votes in 1976 versus 36 percent for Ford, and in 1980 union households gave President Carter only 50 percent of their votes against 43 percent for Reagan and 5 percent for John Anderson.

An ABC News poll indicated 45 percent of union households voted for Reagan, and 54 percent for Mondale four years ago.

″It’s like the deregulation of the rank and file. You’ve got the rank and file doing what they damn well please,″ Windt said.

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