As Biden backs striking autoworkers, Trump attacks union leader

President Biden on Friday urged the Big Three automakers to offer more money to the striking United Auto Workers, backing the union’s call for better wages in its unprecedented labor action.

A day before, former president Donald Trump recorded an interview for TV in which he attacked UAW President Shawn Fain, arguing that Fain is “not going to have a union in three years” and alleging the workers “are being sold down the river by their leadership.”

The sharply different approaches between the likely 2024 presidential nominees over the UAW strike highlights the broader contrast between Biden and Trump around unions, the clean energy transition and the economy more generally. Biden, who claims to be the most pro-union president in American history, aimed to show support for labor — while Trump, during whose administration the UAW also went on strike against GM, has picked personal fights and bashed Democrats for pushing the auto industry to transition to electric vehicles.

UAW launches historic strike against Big 3 automakers

Concentrated in Midwestern states that could help decide the next election, the strike could prove both an economic threat to the White House and a political test.

More than 12,000 UAW workers went on strike against Detroit’s three biggest automakers at midnight Friday, with picket lines in Michigan, Ohio and Missouri. The action represents the UAW’s first simultaneous strike against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis (which owns Jeep and Chrysler), an action that could ripple across the economy but also carries the symbolic weight of shutting down the historic powerhouse of U.S. manufacturing.

“They have two very different strategies, and they both really need the autoworkers in these states like Michigan,” said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University. “Biden is taking this very unusual position for a president in saying the company has made enough profits and can afford to give the workers more, whereas Trump is attacking the unions and trying to create a specter of fear about the green transition.”

Despite Biden’s overtures, Fain on Friday appeared to rebuke the administration, saying, “The White House is afraid.” Some Biden advisers have struggled to understand Fain’s priorities, according to White House officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reflect private assessments.

How much do UAW workers make? What to know about today’s strikes.

While careful not to intervene in a private contract dispute, Biden has been clear that he sees the UAW’s demands as an important step toward ensuring that workers benefit from the record profits by the automakers.

Biden has backed the UAW even as the strike risks compounding the economic turmoil that is already complicating his reelection bid. The union has yet to endorse his 2024 campaign, though it backed him in 2020. Biden has not gone as far as some members of Congress, like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and John Fetterman (D-Pa.), in sharply criticizing auto executives for failing to provide more to workers. But on Friday, he echoed the union’s call for more pay, in…

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