Biden extends indirect support to UAW auto strike ahead of 2024 presidential elections

President Joe Biden.(photo:Instagram) /IANS

T.N. Ashok

Washington, Sep 16 (IANS) US President Joe Biden positioned himself clearly in the organised Labour camp ahead of the 2024 elections, saying the Big Three auto companies’ massive profits needed to be shared with the workers making the products.

In an indirect support for the United Auto Workers (UAW) union strike for 36 per cent rise in wages, President Biden delivered his sympathetic remarks in his oval office in White House in favour of the 13,000 workers who struck work at Friday midnight in three of the major auto companies — General Motors, Ford and Stellantis (Chrysler) for higher wages and a 32-hour week, media reports said.

Automobile companies in the past few years “have seen record profits” because of the extraordinary skill and sacrifices made by UAW, the President said in remarks made at the White House. 

“Those record profits have not been shared fairly, in my view, with those workers.”

“Let’s be clear: No one wants a strike,” Biden said, soon after UAW launched a targetted strike with 13,000 workers walking out of three major plants of the auto giants. 

“But I respect workers’ right to use their options under the collective bargaining system … and I understand workers’ frustrations.”

“Workers deserve their fair share of the benefits they helped create for an enterprise,” Biden added in brief remarks as reported by the US News. 

Record profits, the President said, should result in “record contracts” for workers.

Biden is sending acting Labor Secretary Julie Su, as well as senior adviser Gene Sperling, to Detroit to “offer their full support” with the negotiations between the three giant auto companies and the UAW.

Biden called himself the “most pro-union” President in history reiterating his often aired views that labor unions improve working conditions and pay for all workers by raising standards for employee wages and benefits. 

But his remarks on Friday — coming as he hopes to get the UAW’s endorsement in the 2024 election — were remarkably stark in their lack of even-handedness in his assessment of the management-labor dispute, automobile industry sources said .

The President of any party is supposed to steer the overall economy of a nation and must take into account the needs of business leaders as well — whose success can create jobs — as well as workers, who want to be paid fairly for the work that enables management’s profits, analysts said .

Biden’s remarks on Friday could not be construed as sympathetic to the Big Three automakers — Ford, General Motors and Stellantis — as workers launched targetted strikes in Wayne, Michigan, Wentzville, Missouri, and Toledo, Ohio, the analysts claimed.

UAW’s 13,000 workers walked out of the automakers plants as their work contracts expired. This is perhaps the first time that the union has launched a strike against all three automakers at the same time. UAW is calling the campaign the “Stand up Strike,” a homage to the 1936-37 historic “Sit Down Strike” against General Motors in Flint, Michigan, that inaugurated the domestic auto workers’ labour union movement.

The worst strike in the US automobile industry was in the 20th century when millions of workers struck work paralysing the automobile industry. 

Biden in his remarks did not specifically endorse the UAW demands for a 36 per cent pay hike across the board for four years, a shorter work week, and ending the “tiered employment system” that grants new workers lower pay and less generous benefits and they also wanted the restoration of a traditional pension.

The union argued in favour of their wage hike as they said it would be commensurate with the boost in hefty profits and executive compensation at the auto companies. From 2013 to 2022, according to the Economic Policy Institute, profits at the Big Three leapt 92 per cent, totalling $250 billion by last year. CEO pay at the automakers went up by 40 per cent during that same period. Forecasts for 2023 expect more than $32 billion in additional profits for the companies, EPI said.

Management, meanwhile, says the union’s demands are unreasonably high and would imperil the long-term health of the industry. The Big Three have offered the union about half of the pay increase UAW is seeking, that is to say, conceding immediately a 18 per cent pay increase, reports said

Mary Barbara, GM’s CEO since 2014 , said the strike would hurt not just the auto company but the entire demand supply chain in the industry weakening US’ inflation-ridden economy as one job in GM related to six other jobs in the value chain.

“There’s no way we can be sustainable as a company” if UAW’s demands are met,” Ford CEO Jim Farley said on CNBC. In a separate interview on CNN prior to that , Farley said the union had responded to the management’s fourth offer in two weeks on Tuesday. 

Biden, it may be recalled, received the support of the UAW endorsement in 2020 elections and hopes to sustain it again for the 2024 election in the home base of the auto industry in Michigan state. It also helps Biden garner support in other states where there is a substantial labor union population.

When asked on whose side he was on, former President Donald Trump said he was “on the side of making our country great”. 

Trump told NBC news that the union members would end up losing their jobs. 

“The auto workers are being sold down the river by their leadership, and their leadership should endorse Trump,” the GOP’s 2024 front-runner said in an interview to be aired Sunday on “Meet the Press”.

UAW President Shawn Fain previously said another Trump presidency would be “a disaster,” US News said.

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