Joe Biden proclaims himself the most pro-union president in the history of the United States. This Friday he has shown this with an unusual act: he has joined the picket line of the strike of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union against the Big Three of Detroit: General Motors, Ford and Stellantis (which integrates Chrysler). Megaphone in hand and wearing a union cap, he has shown his support for the demands of the strikers: "Stand firm. You deserve a considerable increase and other advantages," he said. "Wall Street didn't build this country, the middle class is the one that did," he added.
"This is a historic moment — the first time a sitting president of the United States has joined the picket line," said UAW President Shawn Fain, the Chrysler electrician turned union leader who publicly called on Biden to join the protest.
Biden has visited pickets at a General Motors facility in Wayne County, Michigan, just outside Detroit. With his unprecedented move, he has been ahead of former President Donald Trump, who plans a rally with unionized workers in Michigan on Wednesday, coinciding with the second Republican debate of the primaries, scheduled for that day at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley (California). Michigan is one of the key states for the 2024 presidential election.
The president has been greeted at the foot of the steps of Air Force One by the president for Fain, Michigan Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist and three congressmen. A large convoy with the security deployment that usually accompanies the president has then gone to the factory, where the pickets were more numerous than in recent days.
The UAW has been throughout its 88-year history the most powerful and influential union in the United States, but it had plunged into an era of decadence and corruption for which two of its presidents found their bones in jail. Fain became the union's first directly elected president in March. Despite Biden's support for his demands, the UAW, unlike other unions, has not yet called for support for Biden in the 2024 election.
The unions demand a new group with strong wage increases that compensate for the purchasing power lost since the financial crisis, in addition to eliminating or reforming the double wage scale that penalizes new workers and guarantees of job security in full transition to the electric car.
Trump robbed Democrats of the traditional support of much of the industrial workers of the so-called rust belt of the United States, where heavy industry is concentrated. He beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, among other states where the weight of blue-collar workers has an important weight, and thanks to that he achieved the presidency. Biden regained all three in 2020 and, along with Arizona, Nevada and Georgia, can be decisive again next year. The US president has already campaigned insistently with the unions before the midterm congressional elections to retain the worker vote of those three states.
Biden's visit has not pleased companies. Last year at this time, Biden visited the Detroit Auto Show with Mary Barra, the head of General Motors. A year later, he demonstrated against a plant of the same company. Before Biden's visit, Stellantis has defended his offer: "On the first day of the strike, President Biden said that UAW workers 'deserve a contract that sustains them and the middle class.' We agree and present a record offer," he said in a statement. "Here are the facts: compound wage increase of 21.4%, including a 10% increase at the time of ratification, $1 billion in retirement security benefits, inflation protection, job security and much more."
"Unlike the non-union operators and electric car startups that make up the majority of the U.S. market, Stellantis relies on collaboration between management and workers to ensure our company remains competitive and therefore sustainable. It is a position we have proudly adopted. But it also requires a balanced agreement that fairly rewards our workers for their contribution to our success, without significantly harming Stellantis against our non-union competitors. We are set to sign a record contract that positions our company to continue providing good jobs here at home and be the winner in America's transition to an electrified future."
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