It’s rare for so many elements of a president’s political identity to collide in one place.
Friday’s walkout by the United Auto Workers is a real-time test of President Biden’s economic agenda: his call for higher wages for the middle class; his unabashedly pro-union stance; his drive to reinvent the future of electric vehicles for automakers – centered in Michigan, a state he must win in 2024 to stay in the Oval Office.
The targeted strike by some members of the 150,000-member union aims to disrupt one of America’s oldest industries at a time when Mr. Biden is sharpening the contrast between what his rivals and allies call “Bidennomics” and a Republican plan that the president warns. a darker version of trickle-down economics that mainly benefits the rich.
“Their plan – MAGAnomics – is more extreme than anything America has ever seen before,” Mr. Biden said Thursday, just hours before the union voted to go on strike.
At the White House, Mr. Biden’s aides say the outcome of the battle between automakers and their workers will underscore many of the president’s arguments about the need to reduce income inequality, the benefits of empowered employees and the increase in corporate profits. like car manufacturers, which allows them to afford higher wages.
“We need to rebuild the middle class and rebuild things here,” said Eddie Vale, a longtime Democratic strategist who worked for years for the AFL-CIO. “You have green energy, technology and jobs. You have important states for elections. So it all kind of comes together here in a whirlwind.
“If it’s not managed properly, there are political risks,” Mr. Vale said, but added: “Ultimately, Biden will be able to play an honest broker role here. »
These risks were already beginning to manifest themselves on Friday morning. In a searing statement, the head of the US Chamber of Commerce placed responsibility for the strike at Mr Biden’s feet.
“The UAW strike and indeed the ‘summer of strikes’ are the natural result of the Biden administration’s ‘whole-of-government’ approach to promoting unionization at all costs,” said Suzanne P. Clark, president of the nation’s largest business lobbying group.
She predicted the strike would have “considerable negative consequences for our economy.”
Unlike previous strikes involving railroad workers or air traffic controllers, Mr. Biden has no special legal authority to intervene. In the current situation, he is not in control, but he is not a mere observer either.
Just before the strike vote, Mr. Biden called Shawn Fain, the president of the UAW, as well as top executives of the automakers. Aides said the president asked the parties to ensure workers get a fair contract and he urged both sides to stay at the negotiating table.
This does not happen. Economists say a prolonged strike, if it lasts weeks or even months, could deal a major blow to the U.S. economy, particularly in the middle of the country.
How Mr. Biden handles the situation could have a significant impact on his re-election hopes. In a CNN poll conducted earlier this month, only 39 percent of respondents approved of the job he is doing as president and 58 percent said his policies have worsened economic conditions in the United States, instead of improving them.
Also critical is the fact that the strike is centered in Michigan. Mr. Biden won the state over former President Donald J. Trump with just over 50% of the vote. Without the state’s 16 electoral votes, Mr. Biden would not have defeated his rival.
Yet the president is steadfast on his policies toward unions and the environment. In a Labor Day speech in Philadelphia, Mr. Biden renewed both his vision of what he called a “transition to a made-in-America electric vehicle future” — which he said will protect jobs – and his unwavering belief in unions.
“You know, there are a lot of politicians in this country who don’t know how to pronounce the word ‘union,'” he said. “They talk about work, but they don’t say “union.” It is “union”. I am part of the… I am proud to say “union”. I am proud to be the most pro-union president.
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