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January 1982, Vol. 105, No. 1
Organized labor in 1981:
a shifting of priorities
The organized labor movement was 100 years old in 1981, but the celebration was muted by continuing difficulties in attracting workers to the movement, by employment cutbacks in some heavily unionized industries, and by disagreements with the Reagan Administration over social and economic policies. Opposition to Administration policies. Opposition to Administration policies culminated in a September "Solidarity Day" rally of 400,000 workers in Washington, D.C., to publicize labor's grievances. And, in a break with tradition, the AFL-CIO did not invite the President to attend its annual convention. Shortly afterwards, in December, President Reagan met with AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland and other labor leaders in an effort to improve relations, with mixed results. Kirkland agreed to help in attaining closer consultation on labor matters, but said that organized labor would continue to oppose the President's economic program.
The steel industry rebounded somewhat from its 1980 operating losses, but economic difficulties continued in the automobile and automobile parts, trucking, rubber, construction and airline transportation industries. One consequence was an increase in the number of settlements calling for employee "sacrifices"wage-and-benefit reductions or deferrals. The only beneficial aspect of these somber developments was an increased awareness by labor and management of the need to cooperate in countering mutual problems, such as foreign competition, energy shortages, and plant and product obsolescence. In some cases, this cooperative spirit was manifested by the establishment of formal bipartite committees that would continue after immediate difficulties are resolved.
These was some moderation in the inflation rate, but the unemployment rate increased as the economy entered a recession in the second half of the year. The voluntary program of wage and price restraints, initiated by the previous Administration, was ended in January. President Reagan said the program was "totally ineffective in controlling inflation" and that it "imposed unnecessary burdens on labor and industry." The Council on Wage and Price Stability, administrator of the program, generally agreed with the President's assessment, but said that the program had been successful in "preventing a bad situation from becoming even worse."
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