Biden becomes first sitting US president to join a picket line – contrasting strike-shy Starmer in the UK

Joe Biden
Support us and go ad-free

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.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

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/, resized to 770*403.

Support us and go ad-free

We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support

The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.

The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.

So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.

Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. Oh, this is absurd. Biden is as viciously anti-worker as any other American president, and no less so than Trump. Along with the self-proclaimed progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Biden blocked a national rail strike last December. His entire political history is of a politician in the service of bosses – never at any point the workers. His brief visit to the UAW picket line was in response to Trump’s equally insincere declaration of support for workers. That a Canary writer was fooled by this cheap trick tells readers a lot about the standard of reporting.

      The rank and file have no allies in the White House or UAW bureaucracy. The chief aim of the Biden administration is to stop the developing strike movement and discipline the working class for war production as it wages war against Russia in Ukraine, and also to prepare for war with China. It is revealing that it was in The Guardian, not on this site, that a comment piece was published decrying Biden’s role in blocking the national rail strike:

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.