So many parts of a president’s political identity rarely come together in one place.
Friday’s United Auto Workers strike is a litmus test for President Biden’s economic agenda: his call for higher wages for the middle class; His unapologetic pro-union stance. His climate-driven quest to reimagine the electric vehicle future of auto companies is centered in Michigan, a state he must win in 2024 to remain in the Oval Office.
The strike by some members of the 150,000-member union aims to disrupt one of America’s oldest industries at a time when Biden is sharpening the contradiction between what rivals and allies call the “pedium economy” and the Republican plan that the president warns will end. A darker version of a trickle-down economy that mostly benefits the rich.
“Their plan — MAGAnomics — is more extreme than anything America has ever seen before,” Biden said Thursday, just hours before the union voted to strike.
At the White House, Biden aides believe the outcome of the battle between auto companies and their workers will highlight many of the president’s arguments about the need to reduce income inequality, the benefits of empowering employees, and increasing corporate profits. Like automakers that make them able to afford higher salaries.
“You have to rebuild the middle class and build things back here,” said Eddie Fall, a longtime Democratic strategist who worked for years at the AFL-CIO. “You’ve got green energy, you’ve got technology, you’ve got jobs. You’ve got states that are important for election. So all of those things are together here in a vortex.”
“If it’s not handled properly, there will be political and policy risks,” Vale said, but added: “Ultimately, Biden will be able to play a role as an honest broker here.”
These risks were already becoming clear on Friday morning. In a scathing statement, the head of the US Chamber of Commerce placed the blame 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 strengthening unions at all costs,” said Susan B. Clark, president of the nation’s largest business lobby group.
She expected the strike to have “long-term negative consequences on our economy.”
Unlike previous strikes involving railroad workers or air traffic controllers, Biden has no special legal authority to intervene. As it stands, he’s not in control, though he’s not just an observer either.
Just before the strike vote, Biden called Sean Fine, president of the UAW, as well as top auto company executives. The president asked the parties to ensure workers get a fair contract and urged both sides to stay at the negotiating table, aides said.
This did not happen. Economists say that a prolonged strike, if it continues for weeks or even months, could be a blow to the American economy, especially in the center of the country.
How Mr. Biden handles the situation could have a major impact on his re-election hopes. In a CNN poll earlier this month, only 39 percent of people approved of the job he is doing as president, and 58 percent said his policies have made economic conditions in the United States worse, not better.
The fact that the strike is centered in Michigan is also crucial. Mr. Biden won the state over former President Donald J. Trump with just over 50 percent of the vote. Without the state’s sixteen electoral college votes, Biden would not have defeated his rival.
However, the president is unwavering on policies toward both unions and the environment. In a Labor Day speech in Philadelphia, Biden renewed his vision for what he called “the transition to a made-in-America electric vehicle future” — which he said would protect jobs — and his firm 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 labor, but they don’t say ‘union.’ It is the “Union”. I am one of — I am proud to say “Union.” “I am proud to be the most pro-union president.”
“Web maven. Infuriatingly humble beer geek. Bacon fanatic. Typical creator. Music expert.”