US president Joe Biden joined a picket line of striking United Auto Workers union members in Michigan on Tuesday (26 September), a first for a sitting US president, media reported.
“Wall Street didn’t build the country, the middle class built this country,” said Biden.
“And unions built the middle class . . . You deserve what you’ve earned, and you’ve earned a hell of a lot more than you’re getting paid now.”
Biden, a Democrat, said the workers should be doing as “incredibly well” as the companies that employ them, according to a BBC report.
General Motors CEO Mary Barra is reportedly the highest paid of the Detroit Three CEOs, earning US$29m per year, and has received a 34% increase over the last four years.
The BBC noted the visit came a day before Republican 2024 presidential election challenger, Donald Trump, was due to arrive.
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But workers said they felt the rivals could politicise the strike and urged them to “just stay away”.
Some workers said they hoped the political attention would help their cause but others dismissed the visits as political stunts aimed at getting votes.
“We don’t want to divide people and when you bring politics into it, it’s going to cause an argument,” a Ford employee told the BBC.
Officials had refused to be drawn on whether Biden supported the current UAW proposal, insisting the administration would “leave it to the UAW and the big three”.
The president’s presence in Michigan was intended to show support to the car workers and he believes “the men and women of the UAW deserve a fair share of the record profits they’ve helped to create,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
Biden had been invited to visit by UAW president, Shawn Fain.
The BBC said the visits came as Republicans and Democrats focus on the electorally important ‘midwestern rust belt’ where blue collar workers such as the UAW members form a vital voting bloc.
The UAW endorsed Biden in 2020 but had yet to name a preferred candidate for the 2024 election, saying the union’s support needs to be “earned”.
The presidential visit to the picket line also came as his administration pushes for more electric vehicle (EV) production in the US, a cause for concern for union members who worry EVs require fewer workers to build them and could be made in non-union factories for much lower wages, the BBC added.