Biden to join the auto workers' strike picket line
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden's decision to stand alongside United Auto Workers pickets on Tuesday on the 12th day of their strike against major carmakers underscores an allegiance to labour unions that appears to be unparallelled in presidential history.
Experts in presidential and US labour history say they cannot recall an instance when a sitting president has joined an ongoing strike, even during the tenures of the more ardent pro-union presidents such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
Theodore Roosevelt invited labour leaders alongside mine operators to the White House amid a historic coal strike in 1902, a decision that was seen at the time as a rare embrace of unions as Roosevelt tried to resolve the dispute.
Biden will be arriving one day before former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination, goes to Detroit to hold his own event in an attempt to woo autoworkers even though union leaders say he's no ally.
Lawmakers often appear at strikes to show solidarity with unions, and during his 2020 Democratic primary campaign, Biden and other presidential hopefuls joined a picket line of hundreds of casino workers in Las Vegas who were pushing for a contract with The Palms Casino Resort.
But sitting presidents, who have to balance the rights of workers with disruptions to the economy, supply chains and other facets of everyday life, have long wanted to stay out of the strike fray — until Biden.
"This is absolutely unprecedented. No president has ever walked a picket line before," said Erik Loomis, a professor at the University of Rhode Island and an expert on US labour history. Presidents historically "avoided direct participation in strikes. They saw themselves more as mediators. They did not see it as their place to directly intervene in a strike or in labour action."
Biden's trip to join a picket line in the suburbs of Detroit is the most significant demonstration of his pro-union bona fides, a record that includes vocal support for unionisation efforts at Amazon.com facilities and executive actions that promoted worker organising. He also earned a joint endorsement of the major unions earlier this year and has avoided southern California for high-dollar fundraisers amid the writers' and actors' strikes in Hollywood.
During the ongoing UAW strike, Biden has argued that the auto companies have not yet gone far enough to satisfy the union, although White House officials have repeatedly declined to say whether the president endorses specific UAW demands such as a 40 per cent hike in wages and full-time pay for a 32-hour work week.
"I think the UAW gave up an incredible amount back when the automobile industry was going under. They gave everything from their pensions on, and they saved the automobile industry," Biden said Monday from the White House. He stressed that the workers should benefit from the carmakers' riches "now that the industry is roaring back."
Biden and other Democrats are more aggressively touting the president's pro-labour credentials at a time when Trump is trying to make inroads in critical swing states where unions remain influential, including Michigan and Pennsylvania. Biden is also leaning in on his union support at a time when labour enjoys broad support from the public, with 67 per cent of Americans approving of labour unions in an August Gallup poll.
Instead of participating in the second Republican primary debate on Wednesday, Trump will head to Michigan to meet with striking autoworkers, seeking to capitalise on discontent over the state of the economy and anger over the Biden administration's push for more electric vehicles — a key component of its clean-energy agenda.
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