Vice President Al Gore delivered a welcomed message on Feb. 20 to the AFL-CIO in support of striking workers. Whether there's any teeth in the statement is another question.
Gore told the AFL-CIO executive council that President Bill Clinton plans to issue an executive order soon prohibiting government agencies from making purchases from companies that permanently replace striking workers. That would seem to have a bearing on two foreign-owned tire makers that have replaced striking United Rubber Workers union members with new employees-Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp.
URW members have been out for seven months at Bridgestone/Firestone and Pirelli Armstrong facilities. Both firms said their plants are now fully staffed with replacement workers and are operating at prestrike levels.
The caveat to the executive order Gore discussed is that it would not be retroactive. That means Bridgestone/Firestone and Pirelli Armstrong wouldn't have to rehire the several thousand URW members who are still out.
The promise of the executive order demonstrates Clinton's weak hand. There's no way he could get Congress to support such a measure, especially after it rejected similar legislation last year. He has to act unilaterally if he wants to help labor-and win its support.
Such an order might give pause to other rubber companies that may contemplate copying Bridgestone/Firestone and Pirelli Armstrong's union-busting tactics. But, knowing how things are going for the president these days, it's a plan that will have more bark than bite.
Negotiators have created a new Interna tional Natural Rubber Agreement. That might not be such a good thing.
In theory the commodity agreement between NR-producing and -consuming nations can ensure a steady supply of Hevea rubber and a source of revenue for small growers. However, the fact is INRA primarily is a political document intended to support developing nations in Southeast Asia. That it does.
When it comes to helping consumer nations-like those paying the current high price of NR-INRA does nothing.
As a price control instrument in a world changing to free markets, INRA's importance in the scheme of things is questionable.