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`Sexist' charge strains ties between AFL-CIO, Democratic Party

Organized labor's political strategy for the 1986 congressional elections and the 1988 presidential election -- and labor's future ties to the Democratic Party -- will be high on the agenda when the AFL-CIO's executive council meets in Florida in mid-February. Very likely, so will charges that John Perkins, the AFL-CIO's top political operative, and other union leaders engaged in ``antiwoman'' talk, or a sexist whispering campaign, to influence the selection of a new Democratic Party chairman, scheduled to take place Feb. 1.

Although women are still a minority in the labor federation's leadership ranks, they are an influential, and highly sensitive, part of the union movement. Any real or fancied bias against women could be upsetting at a time when the AFL-CIO and the whole labor union movement is trying to find ways to regain momentum and a stronger sense of purpose.

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With a few exceptions, unions believe that their political fortunes remain closely tied to those of the Democratic Party and that, to strengthen labor politically, the party must be revitalized.

Despite a large vote by union members and their families for President Reagan last November, a factor in his landslide reelection, unions generally feel that labor was particularly effective in delivering Democratic votes in congressional and state races.

However, there has been dissatisfaction within the labor movement over the effectiveness of the Democratic Party. This has been reflected in the party's struggle to name a new national chairman with a mandate to strengthen the Democrats over the next four years.

While the AFL-CIO did not take an official position supporting a candidate for the party post, it and many of its unions made clear in behind-the-scenes maneuvering that labor -- concerned about growing political weakness -- wants a revitalization of the Democratic Party with a stronger commitment to union-backed social programs and protective labor legislation.

Generally, the unions' favorite candidate for the party chairmanship has been Paul Kirk, the Democrats' treasurer and a longtime associate of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

According to the AFL-CIO's political-action director, union officials have backed Mr. Kirk as a liberal committed to many of the social and economic programs supported by unions.

The campaign for Kirk has caused a backlash within the federation, particularly among women unionists. Nancy Pelosi of California, a strong candidate for the party leadership post, charged on Jan. 28 that she had been the target of a sexist campaign by some labor supporters of Kirk.

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Ms. Pelosi, singling out support for Kirk by Mr. Perkins and others, said, ``I don't think it will go down well that labor has had a big role in picking a new Democratic chairman.''

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