The United Auto Workers went on strike against the Big Three car manufacturers earlier this month. The historic labor stoppage could have broad ramifications for the economy, the labor movement, and beyond — but it’s already having an impact on the 2024 presidential election.
Donald Trump, who has long been trying to win support of the union, traveled to Michigan on Wednesday to speak to autoworkers as his Republican primary competitors debated in California. The trip comes a day after Joe Biden visited the state, where he became the first president ever to join a picket line.
Biden gave limited remarks while standing next to UAW President Shawn Fain, while Trump bloviated for over an hour onstage at an invitation-only event at a non-union auto parts factory. The forums couldn’t have been more different, nor could their respective message to auto workers.
“You guys, UAW, you saved the automobile industry back in 2008 and before,” Biden said on Tuesday. “Made a lot of sacrificers, gave up a lot, and the companies were in trouble. Now they’re doing incredibly well, and you should be doing incredibly well too. Stick with it, because you deserve the significance raise you need and other benefits. Let’s take back what we lost. We saved them it’s about time for them to step up for us.”
Trump told auto workers the strike is misguided and ultimately pointless, while repeatedly casting Biden as evil and himself as the industry’s savior. “Biden’s cruel and ridiculous electrical — he wants electric vehicle mandates that will spell the death of the U.S. auto industry,” Trump said. “You’re negotiating a contract, you’re all on picket lines and everything, but it doesn’t make a difference because in two years you’re all going to be out of business. You’re not getting anything.”
It wasn’t the only time Trump railed against the impact electric cars could have on the industry, seemingly unaware that part of what the UAW is striking for is a share of the electric vehicle economy. The only message he could communicate was that the strike is worthless, and all autoworkers need to do is vote for him next year. “Your current negotiations don’t mean as much as you think,” Trump said. “I watch you out there with the pickets, but I don’t think you’re picketing for the right things.”
The “you” here is misleading, though. Trump was speaking before a crowd at a non-union plant that employs about 150 people, according to The Detroit News, although the event stocked with 400-500 the former president’s supporters. The outlet noted that though some held signs that read “Union Members for Trump” and “Autoworkers for Trump” — in clear view of the cameras, of course — at least two of the people holding such signs acknowledged that they weren’t union members or autoworkers.
Nevertheless, Trump emphasized the importance of getting “your leadership” to endorse him. Fain, the UAW president, hasn’t just refused to do so, he’s attacked Trump at every turn. “Every fiber of our union is being poured into fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers,” he said in a statement last week, after Trump announced he was coming to Michigan.
Earlier this week, Fain told CNN that he found a “pathetic irony” in the fact that Trump was holding a rally ostensibly for union workers from a non-union business. “All you have to do is look at his track record,” he continued. “In 2008, during the Great Recession, he blamed UAW members. He blamed our contracts for everything that was wrong with these companies.”
“I see no point in meeting with him,” Fain added, “because I don’t think the man has any bit of care for what our workers stand for or what the working class stands for. He served the billionaire class and that’s what’s wrong with this country.”
Biden seemed to acknowledge this while speaking to union members alongside Fain on Tuesday. “Wall Street didn’t build the country, the middle class built the country, and unions built the middle class,” the president said. “That’s a fact. So let’s keep going. You deserve what you’ve earned, and you’ve earned a hell of a lot more than you’re getting paid now.”