Biden to picket with UAW a day before scheduled Trump visit to Michigan
UAW member Kenneth Carroll, center, of Team 14, dances and cheers on Stickney Avenue outside Stellantis Toledo Assembly Complex on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Toledo. President Biden says he will join workers on the picket line in Michigan tomorrow. | Isaac Ritchey/The Blade via AP

DETROIT—Democratic President Joe Biden will join United Auto Workers on their picket line in Michigan on September 26, he has announced in a tweet. It will be the first time an incumbent president of the U.S. has joined unionists out on strike.

The president’s announcement comes after the multiply indicted, convicted sexual abuser Donald Trump, the front runner for the GOP nomination to the presidency, said he will travel to Michigan on Sept. 27 to back the auto workers and the automobile industry.

The Biden announcement also came after UAW President Shawn Fain, in unveiling the latest expansion of the union’s strike to 38 GM and Stellantis/FiatChrysler supply plants in 20 states,  invited everyone from workers’ families “to the president of the United States” to join the ever-growing movement in support of the workers.

“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. It’s time for a win-win agreement that keeps American auto manufacturing thriving with well-paid UAW jobs,” Biden tweeted at 4:56 pm on September 22.

Biden is pushing his reputation as what he calls “the most pro-labor president in American history.”

Republicans meanwhile, make no bones about their anti-labor leanings. Republican presidential hopeful Tim Scott, for example, has called for the firing of strikers and has condemned their demands as excessive ones that will harm the automobile industry. He has made no mention of the excessive salaries of the CEOs who make 300 or more times what their workers make.

The UAW has filed a complaint against Scott for violating labor law which prohibits lawmakers from attacking the right of workers to strike.

The UAW, unlike many other unions, has not yet endorsed President Biden for reelection. They want to see the president line up with them on the issue of preventing companies from going the non-union route for the production of electric vehicles. They are concerned about federal pro-environment money going to non-union plants in the South and want Biden to commit to them that he is on their side on this issue.

Biden did not specify where and when he would march in Michigan, for security reasons, and the White House has yet to elaborate. The union’s new and reform-oriented executive board expanded the strike only at GM and Stellantis parts and supply plants, not at Ford. That means only one Ford plant—its paint and assembly plant in Wayne, Mich.—is being struck.

It’s one of the initial three plants, one per automaker, struck when the union members began their walkout at midnight September 14-15. UAW is, for the first time in decades, both bargaining with and striking all three Detroit-based car companies.

Latest show of support

Biden’s decision is his latest, and arguably his most prominent, show of his support for workers and unions, although he often declares “the middle class built America and unions built the middle class” in his speeches, offhand remarks, and even to corporate leaders.

And both Biden and his staff have repeatedly said the UAW is the backbone of that union-led movement. The strike’s goals are to recover what workers lost over the last 15 years to the corporate class: Pay, regular defined benefit pensions, job security, health care, and elimination of the two-tier pay system imposed on auto workers and other workers nationally.

Ford has moved somewhat on all those issues including eliminating the hated two-tiers and agreeing the union has a right to strike over plant closures. GM and Stellantis have barely budged, Fain said in his latest video report to his members, viewed by more than 46,000 people. The union has 150,000 members working at Detroit’s Big 3, and the expansion brings the total number out on strike to just under 19,000.

The strike’s impact is already wider than that, though. The struck supply plants send parts to other assembly plants, going up the line to the final assembly of a complete car, truck, or SUV. Thus GM claimed it had to close a plant in the Kansas City suburb of Fairfax, Kansas, because that plant wasn’t getting key parts from another of the first three struck plants, in Wentzville, Mo., a St. Louis suburb.

Biden’s strike support also sets up a contrast with his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, and his pro-corporate and anti-worker record of his four years in office. Although the UAW has not endorsed Biden, Fain has virtually ruled out any union endorsement of Trump.

With a wide lead in Republican opinion polls 13 months before the 2024 presidential election, Trump is traveling to Michigan rather than debating the other GOP contenders that same night. He’ll speak there, too, at the same evening time the others are making their cases in a televised debate.

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler cheered Biden’s decision to join the picket line. A check of news stories and the UAW website showed that aside from Fain’s invitation, which was accepted, the union has yet to comment.

“For the first time in modern history, a sitting United States President is going to walk a picket line. This is a historic moment of solidarity and a new dawn of the American labor movement. Thank you,” Shuler tweeted.

The UAW was noticeably absent from a mass rally and AFL-CIO endorsement of the Biden-Harris ticket earlier this year in Philadelphia.

That’s because while the union—and the car companies—back Biden’s plans to cut carbon emissions which lead to global warming through switching the country to electric vehicle production, the first two federal grants to build EV battery plants, went to anti-union Tennessee and Kentucky, not pro-union Michigan. Biden has promised jobs to battle global warming would be well-paid union jobs.

In a related development, the Canadian Auto Workers, now known as Unifor and separate from UAW, ratified a new three-year contract with Ford, Reuters reported. It covers 5,600 workers, most of them in Oshawa, Ont., just across the Detroit River from the main Ford plants in Detroit. The Unifor-represented workers make key components for Ford cars and then trundle them across the river.

Unifor followed UAW’s former strategy of selecting one of the three car companies to bargain with for a “pattern contract,” which the other two are expected to follow. It picked Ford. The old pacts with all three expired September 18. The new Unifor-Ford contract has raises of 10%-2%-3% plus “a $10,000 productivity and quality bonus” to all workers.


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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.