Joe Biden visited the Detroit Auto Show in September last year with Mary Barra, president of General Motors. This Tuesday he will return to Michigan, but this time to support those striking against the Big Three of Detroit: General Motors, Ford and Stellantis. The president of the United States will make history by joining the protest to the pickets, picking up the gauntlet thrown this Friday by the president of the United Auto Workers (UAW), Shawn Fain. A little more than a year before the elections in which the re-election is played, Biden, who declares himself the most pro-union president in history, wants to show his support for a segment of the population whose vote can be key in decisive states.
"On Tuesday I will go to Michigan to join the picket line and stand in solidarity with the men and women of the UAW in their fight for a fair share of the value they helped create. It's time to reach a win-win deal that keeps the American auto industry thriving with good-paying jobs for the UAW," the president wrote on X, the social network formerly called Twitter.
It was a response to an explicit and public invitation issued earlier by the union leader. "We invite and encourage everyone who supports our cause to join us on the picket line, from our friends and family to the president of the United States. We invite you to join our fight. The way you can help is by building our movement and showing companies that the public is with us and is with our elected national negotiators," Fain had said shortly after 10 a.m., in the speech in which he called for extending the strike to 38 component distribution centers across the country.
There is no precedent for a U.S. president joining a picket line, although it is unclear what form his visit will take and where it will take place. In 1937 then-Vice President John Nance Garner supported federal intervention to end the historic strike at the Flint (Michigan) auto body plant, germ of the UAW, but the idea was rejected by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The president urged General Motors, then the world's largest company, to recognize the union, which would become a highly influential political player in the coming decades.
The US president campaigned insistently with the unions before the midterm congressional elections to retain the worker vote of three traditionally Democratic states (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan) that are part of the so-called rust belt of the United States, where heavy industry was concentrated. In all three he won in 2020, after in 2016 they gave the presidency to Trump.
Republican candidates have repeatedly criticized his closeness to unions. Biden also tweeted a video Friday that alternates those criticisms from the right with images of him supporting workers and their union leaders and a single word: "Yes."
Biden had already shown his sympathies for the cause of motor workers last week in a brief appearance at the White House. "Auto companies have made record profits, even in recent years, thanks to the extraordinary skill and sacrifices of UAW workers. In my view, those record benefits have not been shared fairly with those workers," he said at the time. "In short, auto workers helped create the American middle class. They deserve a contract that keeps them and the middle class going."
"I understand the frustration of the workers. For generations, workers sacrificed so much to keep the sector alive and strong, especially during the economic crisis and pandemic. Workers deserve a fair share of the benefits they help create for a company," he insisted, reiterating his idea that strong unions are needed to have a strong economy. Regarding the negotiators, he said then: "They have worked tirelessly and the companies have made some significant offers. But I think they should go above and beyond to ensure that record profits for companies translate into record deals for the UAW."
Biden tasked acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and senior White House adviser Gene Sperling to act as mediators "to offer their full support to the parties to reach an agreement."
With his unprecedented move, Biden is ahead of Trump, who plans a rally with union workers in Detroit also next week, on Wednesday, to counterschedule the second Republican debate of the primaries, scheduled for that day at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley (California).
Although he approved tax cuts for companies and high incomes, Trump is aware that to be elected president he needs to attract the vote of those workers disenchanted with globalization and the loss of purchasing power in states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin. In the state of Michigan, Trump won the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton, but lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden. It is, along with Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, Nevada and Arizona, one of the competitive states where the outcome of the presidential elections on November 5, 2024 will be decided.
According to The New York Times, which advanced the plans of the former president, Trump plans to speak to more than 500 workers, and his campaign plans to fill the room with a controlled and chosen auditorium composed of plumbers, pipefitters, electricians and auto workers. The union leader released a statement after learning of the former president's plans showing his hostility: "Every fiber of our union is pouring into the fight against the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers. We can't keep electing billionaires and millionaires who have no understanding of what it's like to live paycheck to paycheck and fight to get ahead and expect them to solve working-class problems," he said.
Biden's campaign also lashed out at him. "Donald Trump is going to Michigan next week to lie to workers and pretend he didn't spend much of his entire failed presidency selling them out at every turn. (...) No self-serving photo op can erase Trump's four years of abandoning union workers and siding with his ultra-rich friends," tweeted Ammar Moussa, a spokesman for the president's re-election campaign.
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