Worried unions aim for biggest mass rally ever in capital
Subway rides will be free in Washington all day next Saturday. That's what organizers of US labor's "solidarity day," Sept. 19, promise followers who come to what may be the biggest Washington mass-meeting in history. The rally will mark a new phase of liberal-labor opposition to the conservative Reagan philosophy. And it is scheduled just before much of the $35 billion in budget cuts voted by Congress last July begin to take effect Oct. 1.
So far the nation, for the most part, has heard only advocates of a balanced budget urging federal retrenchment to help fight inflation. Now comes a visual manifestation of the anxiety of workers and low-income groups exposed to the antiinflation squeeze.
The big protest rally is intended to raise emotions, and all signs indicate its principal targets will be the Reagan administration.
The day is being organized by the AFL-CIO and some 200 affiliated labor and activist groups, including the National Education Association, Americans for Democratic Action, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
If follows the model of the civil rights meeting held Aug. 28, 1963, when 200 ,000 marchers, mostly black, filled the Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument and heard Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his "I have a Dream" speech. Leaders met with President Kennedy.
The mood and size of the new rally will be closely watched by Congress, which is seeing the end of the Reagan political honeymoon as it tries to cut more off the budget.
Labor Secretary Raymond J. Donovan says he represents all labor and not merely the "20.8 percent who are in unions." On ABCTV's "Issues and Answers," Sept. 6, he said that his goal was to "promote and defend the welfare of the American worker" with the target of "jobs, jobs, jobs." He charged that labor's criticism is politically motivated: for example, thet Lane Kirkland "wears two different hats: He is president of the AFL-CIO and a very important part of the hierarchy of the Democratic Party."
The mood between White House and labor leaders is antagonistic. "These are not normal times," says the AFL-CIO's Mr. Kirkland. "What is challenged is a philosophy of government."
Mr. Reagan feels that the mass of workers helped elect him and are on his side in his efforts to end inflation by ringing the budget under control. Addressing editors at the White House Feb. 19, he dismissed criticism by labor leaders of his proposed social welfare cuts. "I happen to think that sometimes they're [the leaders] out of step with their own rank and file. They certainly were in the last election," he said.
Organized labor has big stakes in the duel. "This is indeed the worst year for labor in over five decades," United Automobile Workers (UAW) president Douglas Fraser declared in a Labor Day message. He charged that "the working population of our country . . . is being attacked by an administration in Washington which is well on its way to dismantling most of the social progress . . . [of] the last 50 years."
With prestige staked on solidarity day, the organizers are going all out. Exhortations have gone through the mails for weeks and fleets of buses are chartered.
For $65,000 the Metro subway system is leased by the unions from 8 a.m. to midnight Saturday to allow demonstrators and ordinary passengers alike to ride without charge.
President Reagan won't be here. He has accepted a speaking engagement in Denver.