A low-level labor leader, a guy whose job it was to lead the troops as strike deadlines neared, used to say that a walkout always represented a "failure to communicate." The strike by 6,200 pilots that has grounded Northwest Airlines might well be an exception to that rule.

It is hard to believe that the members of the Air Line Pilots Association and Northwest harbor any illusions about one another, not after banging heads throughout 200 negotiating sessions since 1996 and 12 days of intensive bargaining leading up to labor's decision to abandon the cockpit for the picket line.

The issues in the dispute have been well documented -- they include pay and job security -- but they are far too complex and fraught with the implications of longstanding mistrust to bear examination here.

What is clear, however, is the telling impact the strike is having on the 150,000 passengers a day normally served by the now-grounded 400 aircraft of Northwest Airlines and its regional feeders. With the carrier responsible for roughly three-quarters of the flights at its three hubs--the Detroit, Minneapolis and Memphis airports--the strike's dire implications have spurred seven regional governors to ask President Clinton to intervene on behalf of their states' constituents.

The administration hints that if the strike extends into the Labor Day weekend, the president will reconsider his decision to let the parties duke it out. It is our hope that the president does in fact weigh in on the side of interceding if the pilots and the airline have not come to an agreement by the time you read this.

Under the terms of the Railway Labor Act, he can call for a 60-day "cooling off" period if he finds the strike poses a "substantial economic threat" and deprives a region--in this case the upper Midwest--of a "central transportation service." For agents and their beleaguered clients, the case appears already made.

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