On 26 September, Joe Biden became the first sitting US president to stand on a picket line. He joined striking auto workers in Michigan in a pitch for working-class votes against likely election rival Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, back in the UK, commenters are drawing contrasts between the US president’s pro-union stance and the lukewarm attitude of Labour’s Kier Starmer.
‘Step up for us’
Wearing a United Auto Workers (UAW) union baseball cap, the Democrat used a bullhorn to tell employees they deserved:
a hell of a lot more than what you’re getting.
Biden urged automakers Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis to “step up for us”. He then shook hands with union workers, and agreed when asked if employees should get a 40% pay increase.
His visit came a day before ex-president Donald Trump visited Michigan, the historic heart of the US car industry and a key battleground for the 2024 election campaign.
On 24 September, an ABC News-Washington Post poll showed Trump beating Biden 52% to 42% in a head-to-head match-up. Whilst other polls have put them roughly even, Biden’s approval ratings remain low. This is particularly true on the economy, where high prices are blotting out favourable employment rates.
The war for workers
The autoworkers strike has increasingly become a political football for Biden and Trump as they head for a probable rematch next year. Biden’s trip was designed to trumpet his pro-union credentials. He’s aiming to counter growing concerns about his poll ratings, his age, and his struggles to get his economic message across. The president’s trip also went down well with unions, whose support was crucial when he beat Trump in 2020.
Trump, meanwhile, is hoping to claw back working-class voters, who originally helped install him in the White House. However, Trump himself is far from an ally of the unions. In fact, the car parts plant he visited on the other side of Detroit on 27 September was non-union.
A UAW source said:
We would not consider that standing in solidarity if you are going to a non-union shop while a strike is going on.
Instead, Trump has focused on attacking what he called Biden’s “draconian” push to fund a shift to more environmentally friendly electric vehicles. He claimed that the green policy is pushing jobs to China. Conversely, Biden says his push on electric vehicles is part of a plan to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States and lead a global race to develop green technology.
Starmer, take notes
Meanwhile, back in the UK, the irony of a US president joining a picket whilst the leader of the UK Labour party can barely say a kind word on the subject of strikes hasn’t been missed.
The Big Issue ran with the emphatic headline:
Labour’s Keir Starmer should take inspiration from Joe Biden on strikes and picket lines
Meanwhile, the Independant asked:
Is Joe Biden the best Labour leader the party never had?
Back in 2022, Starmer caught flak for refusing to back the nursing strikes. He also caused outrage in his own back benches last December by ordering MPs not to join pickets. More recently, Trades Union Congress president Matt Wrack threatened that strikes would continue if a potential Starmer government provides “austerity wearing a different colour rosette”.
The Labour leader has gone so far as to promise that he would repeal the Tories’ anti-strike Minimum Service Levels law. If only it wasn’t too much to ask that he also clear the incredibly low bar of solidarity set by the traditionally union-shy Democratic president.
Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse
Featured image via Flikr/Gage Skidmore, resized to 770*403.