By: Terry Hunsicker
On Sept. 26, President Joe Biden joined a United Auto Workers (UAW) picket line in support of striking autoworkers in Michigan.
Biden, speaking at the event, encouraged strike members and voiced his support for their demands.
“Stick with it,” the president said to the striking auto workers.“You deserve what you earned, and you’ve earned a hell of a lot more than you’re getting paid now.”
The visit marks the first time a sitting President has directly joined a picket line, with previous presidents either taking the role of mediators or only promising support, such as former president Barack Obama’s unfulfilled promise to join a picket line.
“I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. I’ll walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States,” said Obama in the 2007 campaign event.
A day after Biden’s visit to the striking workers, former president Donald Trump followed with a visit to workers in Michigan as part of his reelection campaign. Notably, his visit was to a non-union manufacturer, and the UAW’s president Shawn Fain told CNN in an interview his intention to ignore the visit by Trump and criticized the former president for appealing to automotive workers.
“I don’t think the man has any bit of care about what our workers stand for, what the working class stands for.” Fain said, “I find a pathetic irony that the former president is going to hold a rally for union members at a nonunion business.”
The latest UAW strike, which Biden visited, began on Sept. 15 against assembly plants owned by Detroit’s three major automotive manufacturers; General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis.
The UAW’s primary demands for the strike include a 36% increase in pay that includes annual adjustments to match the cost of living, and an end to wage tiers that gave significantly more pay to those who had been with the companies for longer, despite working the same jobs as newer members of the company who were designated in the low tier of wages.
Another long-term goal by the UAW for worker pay is the idea of a 32-hour work week which pays equal to a 40-hour work week, with more overtime pay for workers, championed by Fain. Although he described the specific goal of a 32-hour work week as “audacious” in a recording through Facebook Live, optimism is still high with the UAW’s president.
The strike marked a departure from the tactics of previous automotive strikes, as only a limited number of UAW workers walked out of all three companies simultaneously, instead of the expected mass walkouts of previous strikes.
The split strike tactic is meant to turn the three companies against each other and allowed Jeep manufacturer Stellantis to avoid further strikes after it made more concessions than Ford and General Motors before a deadline set by the UAW. The smaller individual strikes also allow the UAW to limit the strain on their $825 million strike fund, which provides $500 in weekly payments to striking workers, along with reimbursed health care costs.