An unprecedented image, "historic" even according to the White House: by joining auto workers on Tuesday, September 26 on a picket line in the key state of Michigan, Joe Biden wanted to show his support for the unprecedented social movement shaking the sector.
Speaking with a megaphone to members of the auto workers' union (UAW), cap of the organization screwed on the head, the US president recalled the "sacrifices" made by the latter in order to "save the industry" during the crisis of 2008. They now deserve a "significant increase" in salary, he said. He is the first sitting U.S. president to go on a picket line.
Such presidential support in a labor dispute between the UAW and three giants of the sector - General Motors, Ford and Stellantis - is a reminder of the closeness that Joe Biden cultivated during his career with labor unions. He also highlights the importance of Michigan as the Democrat, campaigning for re-election in 2024, could again find himself facing his predecessor Donald Trump.
The president was eagerly awaited, earlier in the day, in front of the gates of Wayne's factory, where a dozen strikers are picketing, between signs asking to "save the American dream" and a campfire near a tent. "It's huge, it's an important support because he believes in what we're fighting for, it makes me very proud," one of the strikers, Patrick Smaller, told AFP.
After a Ford factory, Joe Biden went to meet strikers in front of the Stellantis site in Belleville, not far away, where he was expected by a small group of workers.
"I hope his coming and his support will help us, he shows companies that we have the president's support and hopefully they will accept a deal quickly," said Kristy Zometsky, 44, nine of whom work at the plant. "That he takes a public stand and says he supports our cause is very important," added Curtis Cranford, 66, who is running as a Republican voter, "because of immigration and abortion."
By going there on Tuesday, Joe Biden is putting the spotlight on his Republican rival, who has planned to go to the same state on Wednesday to court blue-collar workers, on whom he intends to base his reconquest of the White House. Enough to make this already historic strike a subject of political battle.
Donald Trump, who had announced his trip before that of Joe Biden, has also accused the Democratic president of copying him. And his adviser Jason Miller called Biden's visit "nothing more than a poor photo op."
For Joe Biden, the challenge is to prove that he is instead the president of the working classes, defender of the unions and architect of the industrial renewal of the United States. But the octogenarian, struggling in the polls and now gauged at each trip on his physical state, is walking on eggshells: the ongoing social conflict could prove very damaging to the American economy.
And the strike has spread to the car manufacturers General Motors and Stellantis, for lack of progress in union negotiations, unlike Ford where "real progress" has been made.
Asked if the president was taking sides in the labor dispute, the White House spokeswoman preferred to sidestep the questions, insisting that Joe Biden wanted above all a "win-win" agreement.
"Take your jobs"
Joe Biden has made his support for unions a hallmark of his tenure, and the UAW's endorsement of his 2020 candidacy helped him swing Michigan in his favor, while the state voted for Donald Trump in 2016.
However, the Democrat's administration is one of the drivers of the historic upheaval that the auto industry is experiencing, towards more greener vehicles. "When he walks slowly to pretend to be on a 'picket', remember that he wants to take your jobs and send them to China," Trump told Truth Social.
The subsidies for electric vehicles provided for in President Biden's Great Climate Plan (IRA), however, only apply to cars made in North America.
On Wednesday, Donald Trump will speak in front of a factory that manufactures spare parts in Clinton Township, Michigan, according to his campaign team, just over 60 km from where Joe Biden visited on Tuesday.
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