Former President Donald Trump made a strategic move as he descended upon battleground Michigan on Wednesday night, where he sought to win over blue-collar voters amidst the backdrop of an ongoing autoworkers’ strike.
As per PBS on Wednesday, September 27, 2023, his visit came hot on the heels of a historic moment as President Joe Biden became the first sitting U.S. president to walk a picket line, joining the United Auto Workers (UAW) in Detroit.
The UAW’s demands include higher wages, shorter work weeks, and assurances of unionization for new electric vehicle jobs.
These competing appearances highlight what is shaping up to be a central theme of the 2024 general election—a potential rematch between Trump and Biden.
Michigan, a crucial battleground state, stands at the forefront of their efforts to position themselves as champions of the working class.
In this showdown, Trump scheduled a primetime address at Drake Enterprises, a non-unionized auto parts supplier located in Clinton Township, just outside Detroit.
He addressed a crowd consisting of several hundred current and former UAW members, along with members of plumbers and pipefitters unions.
Trump aimed to exploit the strike to drive a wedge between Biden and union workers, a demographic that played a pivotal role in his surprise 2016 victory.
Back then, Trump managed to secure votes in traditionally Democratic strongholds like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania by vehemently opposing global trade deals and pledging to revive declining manufacturing towns.
However, in the 2020 election, Biden reclaimed these states by emphasizing his working-class background and commitment to organized labor.
He branded himself as the “most pro-union president” in U.S. history and emphasized his administration’s investments in green energy and electric vehicle manufacturing, promising a future for the industry in the United States.
Trump’s current strategy revolves around capitalizing on dissatisfaction with Biden’s handling of the economy, particularly concerning persistent inflation.
He repeatedly warned against Biden’s embrace of electric vehicles, a crucial element of his clean-energy agenda, suggesting that it would lead to job losses, echoing the concerns of autoworkers who fear that electric cars require fewer manufacturing jobs and might not be unionized.
“Joe Biden’s draconian and indefensible electric vehicle mandate will annihilate the U.S. auto industry and cost countless thousands of autoworkers their jobs,” Trump stated in response to Biden’s Tuesday visit.
While Trump portrayed himself as a pro-worker, his tenure was marked by clashes with union leadership, an attempt to drive a rift between union members and their leaders, and a campaign urging autoworkers not to pay union dues.
He also asserted that union leaders had self-serving deals, proclaiming, “I WILL KEEP YOUR JOBS AND MAKE YOU RICH!”
While the union did not endorse Biden after supporting him in 2020, UAW President Shawn Fain remained deeply critical of Trump, stating, “I don’t think he cares about working-class people. I think he cares about the billionaire class; he cares about corporate interests.”
One of the major concerns of the UAW in contract negotiations is the unionization of new battery manufacturing plants in the transition to electric vehicles.
They argue that securing a role in the clean energy future of the auto industry will ensure higher wages and job security.
Detroit automakers have announced plans to build 10 battery plants in the U.S., with most in joint ventures with South Korean battery makers.
The question of whether these plants will be unionized remains a point of contention within the auto industry.
While some executives argue that EVs will require 30% to 40% fewer workers due to fewer moving parts, others believe that a comparable amount of labor will be necessary.
Trump’s campaign staunchly defended his pro-worker record, but union leaders argued that his first term was far from worker-friendly.
They pointed to unfavorable rulings from the top labor board and the U.S. Supreme Court, unfulfilled promises of automotive jobs, and the closure of a General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio.
In his speech, Trump lambasted Biden’s economic policies, asserting that middle- and working-class families had suffered during Biden’s presidency.
He also highlighted Biden’s history of supporting free trade deals, which Trump blamed for shifting jobs overseas.
While Trump did not comment on the union’s proposal, his aides insisted that rank-and-file members had different views than their leaders.
Workers along the picket line expressed varying opinions. Some believed that Biden would be better for the middle class, while others favored Trump due to his stance against transitioning to electric vehicles.
The UAW’s targeted strikes against General Motors, Stellantis, and Ford began on September 14, expanding to 38 parts distribution centers across 20 states.
Their demands include substantial raises, shorter workweeks with full pay, and the right to represent workers in electric vehicle battery factories.
Although Biden has not imposed an electric vehicle mandate, he has set a goal for half of all new vehicle sales to be electric by 2030.
His administration has also proposed stringent pollution limits that would require a significant increase in electric vehicle sales by 2032, a proposal that remains pending.
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