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Steelworkers search for successor to moderate leader

The United Steelworkers (USW), a union that has had problems in a depressed industry with high unemployment, now faces a new problem of replacing its president, Lloyd McBride, who passed on Nov. 6.

Mr. McBride had served the USW as president since 1977, in the union's most troubled years since the Great Depression in the 1930s. Under his leadership, the union followed a moderate course that included granting wage and other concessions to major steel producers. The union also cooperated with the industry in working for greater government protection against a flood of imports.

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Although he did not take an active role in the conclusion of 1980 or 1983 steel settlements - the latter was USW's first contract with reduced wages - McBride was credited with winning union support for concessionary agreements and for continuing a no-strike policy in effect for a number of years.

Now USW faces a problem, and perhaps internal controversy, over a successor to a president who won industry praise for working to reduce labor costs. McBride was at times sharply criticized by dissident steelworkers for giving up too much in contract settlements.

USW's executive board faces constitutional and public questions in choosing a successor. The union elects presidents and other top officers by direct membership votes, not at conventions. The union constitution requires a special election if an officer passes on or resigns with two years or more left to serve of a four-year term. McBride's term was to run to Nov. 26, 1985.

The executive board must decide whether to schedule a special election or designate a successor, since McBride had served one four-year term. The decision may be made this weekend.

A dissident faction that campaigned against McBride in 1977 is only a shadow of what it was then. McBride was reelected without opposition last May. Dissidents plan to caucus in Chicago Nov. 19 on future plans.

The new president is likely to emerge from the ranks of present officers, however: Joseph Odorcich, a vice-president who led USW contract negotiations last winter; Leon Lynch, a vice-president who has been a major spokesman for USW on legislative and other ''human affairs'' matters; Lynn Williams, USW secretary; and Frank McKee, its treasurer.

Whoever takes over the presidency, relations between USW and major steel producers can be expected to remain unchanged. The first strains are not expected until the present national steel contract must be renegotiated.

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