WASHINGTON: US president Joe Biden will travel to Michigan on Tuesday to show support for the United Auto Workers strike against Detroit automakers, putting him at the center of the dispute that has pitted his labour allies against major manufacturers.
Biden, a Democrat, sees himself as a pro-union president, and his visit to the state, a day before former President Donald Trump is scheduled to be there, will underscore his support for union workers’ right to take action and engage in collective bargaining.
“Tuesday, I’ll go to Michigan to join the picket line and stand in solidarity with the men and women of UAW as they fight for a fair share of the value they helped create,” Biden said on Friday in a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “It’s time for a win-win agreement that keeps American auto manufacturing thriving with well-paid UAW jobs.”
Biden is running for re-election in 2024 and will likely face Trump, who is the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.
A spokesman for Trump’s campaign said Biden’s trip to Michigan was “a cheap photo op.”
“The only reason Biden is going to Michigan on Tuesday is because President Trump announced he is going on Wednesday,” the Trump campaign said in a statement late on Friday.
The UAW on Friday invited Biden to visit workers on its picket lines and said that it would expand its Detroit strike to parts distribution centres across the US at General Motors and Chrysler parent Stellantis. The company said it has made real progress in talks with Ford Motor.
“It’s very rare for a president to visit strikers,” said Jeremi Suri, a historian and presidential scholar at the University of Texas at Austin. He added that even pro-labour Democratic President Jimmy Carter never visited a picket line.
“This would be a major, major shift for Biden to identify the presidency with striking workers, rather than siding with industry or staying above the fray.”
UAW withholds endorsement
Numerous unions have already endorsed Biden’s re-election, but the UAW has for now withheld its endorsement. Biden said the automakers should “go further to ensure record corporate profits mean record contracts for the UAW,” echoing sentiments by union leaders.
Both the Detroit Three and the UAW have a lot at stake from federal policy decisions. The automakers are counting on Washington for billions in subsidies for electric vehicle (EV) production. They are negotiating with the Biden administration over future emissions rules that require a shift to EVs that the industry believes would be too fast and too expensive.
The union, meanwhile, is concerned that the transition to EVs will mean a loss of jobs as those vehicles require fewer parts in production.
Trump plans to travel to Detroit to speak at a rally advertised for auto workers as he tries to win back some blue-collar voters who defected to Biden in his victory in 2020. Trump has called for rank-and-file union workers to ignore their leaders.
Fighting billionaire class
Trump has not said if he will visit the picket lines. UAW president Shawn Fain blasted Trump earlier in the week, saying the union was “fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers.”
The last US president to show such support for striking workers was probably Theodore Roosevelt, Suri said. In 1902, Roosevelt invited striking coal workers to the White House with government officials and management, concerned that the country faced a coal shortage.
Ahead of the precedent-shattering meeting, Roosevelt, like Biden, found himself with little leverage to negotiate.
“There is literally nothing…the national government has any power to do,” Roosevelt complained to US senator Henry Cabot Lodge, according to a recounting of the strike on the Department of Labor website. “I am at wit’s end how to proceed.”
Workers on the picket lines had mixed feelings over whether Biden should visit. Some said politicians should stay out of the fray, while others said they would welcome the support if the strike continued.
“Me personally, I wouldn’t mind if Biden stepped up and showed some support,” said Laura Zielinski, 55, of Toledo, Ohio, on Tuesday, noting Biden’s visit to the Stellantis Toledo assembly plant in 2010 while he served as vice president.
“Support like that would put a spotlight on the talks – kind of give a nudge to the companies.”
Thomas Morris, 60, who was on a picket line in the Philadelphia suburbs, said he appreciated Biden’s support of unions and calls for corporations to pass along record profits to workers and consumers. He would love to see Biden join. “It would bring a lot of publicity and help the fight,” Morris said.