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  • Nicolas Robichaux

Autoworkers' strike and the labor vote

Updated: Jun 8

On September 15, 2023, 12,700 United Auto Workers (U.A.W.) members went on strike after General Motors, Ford Motor, and Stellantis failed to reach a deal with the United Automobile Workers union. On September 17, the Stellantis offered the U.A.W. union a 21 percent increase in workers' wages over four years, which they rejected because they wanted 40 percent. With the 40 percent increase in the CEO’s salary, the union argues that the workers’ income should similarly increase. The U.A.W President, Shawn Fain, explained, “We've- we've asked for 40% pay increases, and the reason we asked for 40% pay increases is because in the last four years alone, the CEO pay went up 40%. They're already millionaires”.

The wage increase was the focal point of discourse, but the U.A.W. union is seeking additional paid leave, a four-day workweek, and workers’ protections. Yet, the CEOs have retorted that implementing these proposals is unrealistic as they must allocate their funds to sustain the business for the shift to electric vehicles. All three automakers decided upon a 20 percent raise over four and a half years, which the union declined.

With the 2024 presidential election occurring on November 5, 2024, candidates in the Democratic and Republican parties have spoken out on the United Auto Workers union’s strike. On September 26, 2023, President Joe Biden (D) arrived with Shawn Fain at the picket line to demonstrate support, making it the first time in American history that a sitting president had joined a picket. President Biden’s speech instructed that the strike must remain until the manufacturers agree to the UAW union’s demands. Biden said, “The fact of the matter is that you guys, the UAW, you saved the automobile industry back in 2008 ... you made a lot of sacrifices. You gave up a lot. And the companies were in trouble. Now they’re doing incredibly well, and guess what? You should be doing incredibly well.”

President Biden’s support for the United Auto Workers strike is a continuous demonstration of his pro-union stances, ranging from vocalizing support for Amazon’s unionization to avoiding fundraisers in California to support the SAG-AFTRA strike.

The day after President Biden’s speech, former President Donald Trump (R) was invited to an event in Clinton Township, Michigan, at a non-union automobile factory and delivered a speech that was supposed to connect with current and former UAW members voters in the swing state. Yet, former President Trump did not explicitly state he supported the policy of increasing the wage of automobile workers by 40 percent, instead focusing on President Biden’s economy. Following the rationale of the three automotive manufacturers, the former president explained how Biden’s policy on electric vehicles is to blame for harming the automotive industry.

President Trump concluded his speech by calling on United Auto Workers union members to pressure their leadership to endorse him for the 2024 presidency because they might not have a union anymore if not. President Trump stated, “They have to endorse Trump because if they don’t, all they’re doing is committing suicide.”

The United Auto Workers union leadership was displeased with Trump's states of degrading their negotiations and attempting to establish a divide among U.A.W. members and leadership. Fain publicly expressed discontent with Trump’s speech and believes that Trump's policy record indicates he does not support union efforts. Shawn Fain stated, “I don’t think he cares about working-class people. I think he cares about the billionaire class, he cares about the corporate interests.” Yet the U.A.W. union has not endorsed any political candidate for the 2024 election, as the union's predominant focus is on the negotiation to improve their members' working conditions.

The U.A.W. union leadership’s discontent about Trump’s political record might have already been known among automobile workers and union members because their attendance was noticeably absent. Reporters who attended Former President Trump’s event spoke with several members who held signs stating either "Union Members for Trump" or "Auto Workers for Trump," yet neither were a part of those demographics.

When journalists questioned Trump's organizers about the auto workers' absence, they admitted that only a few members attended the event. Brian Pannebecker, who organizes the Auto Workers for Trump Facebook page, expressed, “I don’t know where they’re at, but there are several — a handful.” Scott Malefant, a striking member of U.A.W. and Trump supporter, has not seen another sticker at the event, but maybe a few would show.

The strike has planned an additional 7,000 U.A.W. members picketing in Chicago, Illinois, and Lansing, Michigan, in two weeks if negotiations are not improved. Democrats could secure the labor vote in the swing state of Michigan for the 2024 election, as August 2023 data suggest that Biden and Trump tied for union members' votes within the state. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) claimed that if the Democrats fail to support the United Auto Workers union, they will lose the labor vote and grant Former President Trump the presidency in 2024. As the strike continues, if the Democratic Party remains supportive of the U.A.W. union, and with the union leadership’s displeasure with President Trump, the party can gain the labor vote for the upcoming election.


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