BATH, Me. — President Clinton visited a struggling shipyard on Labor Day for an election season warm-up, praising labor-management cooperation and condemning "enemies of change" in the workplace and government alike.
Taking a half-day break Monday from his vacation at Martha's Vineyard, Mass., Clinton told about 1,000 rain-soaked employees of the Bath Shipyard that a groundbreaking partnership they had just struck with management is the best tool to meet international competition. And he sounded a favorite new theme by taking swipes at unnamed political foes who he said have sought to hamstring his efforts to enact health care and crime legislation.
"Unless we get back to the good old-fashioned American values of working together in partnership, we're still not going to do what we ought to do," Clinton told the crowd, which stood against the backdrop of a Navy destroyer and beneath a pair of huge tower cranes. "We cannot afford in a global economy to be divided again--government and business and workers fighting each other all the time."
But the partnership theme evaporated when he turned to the travails he has encountered this year with Congress, which has all but buried his health care reform initiative and nearly blocked his crime-fighting bill.
"Everybody is for change in general, but they can always find a reason to be against it in particular," Clinton said. "Believe me, there will never be a bill in Congress that is perfect, because we are not perfect people. There is always some reason we can find to say no, to turn away from tomorrow, to be divided from our friends and neighbors.
"Our Administration has fought for change against some very, very powerful enemies of change."
With a payroll of 8,700, the Bath Shipyard is the largest private employer in Maine, having built 450 ships in 110 years. With about 97% of its business centered on defense--primarily destroyers equipped with Aegis missiles--its future has been clouded by the military cutbacks.
The labor-management partnership approved as part of a new three-year agreement with workers is intended to foster a cooperative spirit by putting labor representation on committees that will have a voice in major company decisions. The employee representatives will not participate in actions involving merit pay or employee discharges.
The agreement is built around the "teaming" concept. Labor representatives will weigh in, for example, on the types of contracts the company pursues and even on the amount of its bids for jobs.
The contract forbids layoffs during the three years it is in effect. But it allows the company to shorten workweeks, require job sharing or offer buyout packages.
The Maine visit gave Clinton a chance to repay some of his political debt to Sen. George J. Mitchell (D-Me.), the retiring Senate majority leader who was a major force behind this year's health care reform effort. Mitchell has long looked out for the interests of the shipyard, making sure it continued to receive enough defense contracts to minimize layoffs.
The stop also gave the President an opportunity to put in a word for Democratic Rep. Thomas H. Andrews, who is trailing Republican Rep. Olympia J. Snowe in a race for Mitchell's Senate seat. But Andrews' campaign aides were said to have mixed feelings about the potential effect of Clinton's endorsement.
Before leaving the shipyard, Clinton mentioned the year's most publicized labor-management dispute: the major league baseball strike.
"There's still time for them to go back to work and finish the best baseball season in 50 years," he said. "And I hope they will."
Looking to the November elections, Clinton urged the crowd "to reward people in public life who will say yes to America, who will look for new ways to come together, not be divided."
Later, the President, wearing a white yarmulke, attended services in Edgartown, Mass., celebrating Rosh Hashanah and vowed to continue his work to bring peace to Israel and its neighbors. He and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton attended the packed services at the normally nondenominational Old Whaling Church.