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Other labor leaders wish that their much admired boss would put up his customary fight and lead the labor movement to somethingeven if it is defeat. "Look, we don't always have to win," says another union official. "We supported Adlai Stevenson on principle because he was right. Being the underdog doesn't bother us." Union leaders also worry that failure to support the top of the ticket will hurt other candidates on the ballot and jeopardize Democratic control of Congress. Traditionally, labor can expect little aid and comfort from Republicans.
Last month dissident union leaders met in Washington, D.C., to form a committee to help elect McGovern. It is headed by two Meany loyalists: Joe Beirne, president of the Communications Workers of America, and Joe Keenan, secretary of the International
Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. To date some 30 affiliates, making up about half the AFL-CIO'S 13.6 million membership, have joined the committee. The independent United Auto Workers union is also a member. So is the big St. Louis Teamster local headed by Harold Gibbons, even though the national Teamsters have endorsed Nixon.
But a divided labor obviously offers much less support to the Democratic nominee than a united labor. Since most of the unions contribute to COPE, the political arm of the AFL-CIO, the McGovern committee has not been able to scrape up enough cash to conduct a registration drivea traditional element in a Democratic presidential campaign. Nor do they work very comfortably alongside McGovern's operatives. Some labor leaders remain hawks. Says Joe Keenan flatly: "I support the President on the war." McGovern staffers, on the other hand, continue to downplay labor as if they think that they can win the election without its help. When the machinists' union offered to help out in Connecticut, a McGovern aide said that there was no need for labor volunteers. Complains a local official of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union: "They've as much as told us they don't want our leadership. They're running a personalized campaign over there, and they think they are going to do that on a block-to-block basis. That's going to bring spotty results at best."
As the campaign shakes down, labor and McGovernites may learn to get along better; an increasing number of locals are likely to drop into the McGovern camp. But essentially, labor is sitting out this presidential election, its tools and its riches remaining largely locked up. The question is whether they will rust for lack of use. By opting out of the top of the political process in 1972, labor may demonstrate that American politics can get on perfectly well without it.