The AFL-CIO's big political gambit in the 1984 presidential election was being put to its first major test in Iowa yesterday, while leaders of the 95 -union federation met in Bal Harbour, Fla., for a week-long midwinter conference.
The federation's policymaking executive council was meeting to deal with an agenda of union matters, including a hospital-union dispute and a petition by airline flight attendants for separation from the Airline Pilots Association into a newly chartered union.
But politics continues to be the council's major interest and one considered by organized labor to be critical this year.
The federation gave an unprecedented early endorsement to Walter F. Mondale for the Democratic presidential nomination during its biennial convention late last year. It did this to solidify labor support for the one candidate it considered to have the best chance for winning the White House in the election this November.
It was a unanimous decision, although many in the federation's leadership ranks had some misgivings about it. They conceded a serious risk to AFL-CIO's political power and influence, should Mr. Mondale fail to win heavy Democratic support during state primaries and caucuses.
The Iowa caucuses were the main thing on the minds of the council's 35 members, as they began what is expected to be a heavy barrage of criticism of the Reagan administration and conservatives in Congress. Council members appeared to be confident of a Mondale victory in Iowa. The question - and political concern - was about how big a victory it might be.
AFL-CIO and its unions, the independent National Educational Association, and other labor-oriented associations have had hundreds of workers busy in Iowa, and an estimated $250,000 in union funds was reported available to the Mondale campaign as it progressed to its climax last night. Other Democratic candidates have sharply criticized this as ''special-interest backing'' for Mr. Mondale.