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Biden Joins UAW Picket Line in Unprecedented Presidential Act; Experts Struggle to Recall Similar Historical Instances

by Ryan Lee
7 comments
Biden UAW Strike Participation

President Joe Biden’s choice to stand with United Auto Workers (UAW) during their strike against key automakers on the 12th day of their action marks a historic alignment with labor unions, one that experts say has no recent parallel in the annals of U.S. presidential history.

Even though figures like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman were strong advocates for labor, historians specializing in presidential and labor history cannot cite a single instance when a sitting U.S. president joined a strike in progress. Theodore Roosevelt, for instance, sought a mediating role by inviting both labor leaders and mine owners to the White House during the significant coal strike of 1902.

While it’s not uncommon for legislators to show up at strikes in a show of unity with labor unions, Biden’s action is novel among sitting presidents. Typically, presidents have been cautious, aiming to strike a balance between worker rights and potential disruptions to the economy and supply chain. Biden’s move signals a departure from this long-standing practice.

Additional Coverage on Labor Strikes

  • UAW Strike Expands: Key Updates as More Auto Workers Join the Walkouts
  • Trump’s Track Record on Supporting Autoworkers Contradicts Union Leaders’ Statements
  • Writers’ Strike Continues: Pending Key Votes on Agreement

Erik Loomis, a professor at the University of Rhode Island specializing in U.S. labor history, described Biden’s action as “utterly unprecedented.” He noted that past presidents have typically seen themselves as mediators rather than active participants in labor strikes.

Biden’s act of joining the picket line in Detroit’s suburbs serves as the most emphatic demonstration of his long-standing commitment to unions. His record also includes vociferous support for unionization efforts at Amazon.com and executive measures to encourage worker organization.

During the continuing UAW strike, the President has argued that the automotive companies have not yet met the union’s expectations. However, the White House has stopped short of endorsing specific UAW demands, such as a 40% increase in wages or full-time compensation for a 32-hour workweek.

Amid these developments, Biden emphasized that UAW members made significant sacrifices to keep the auto industry afloat and should now share in the industry’s renewed prosperity. His remarks were made against the backdrop of a rising approval rate for unions among Americans, as indicated by a recent Gallup poll showing 67% support.

While Biden bolsters his pro-labor stance, former President Donald Trump plans to meet with striking autoworkers in Michigan. The visit appears aimed at leveraging dissatisfaction with the current state of the economy and resentment towards Biden’s clean-energy initiatives, particularly the push for electric vehicles.

Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller criticized Biden for not having visited East Palestine, Ohio, following a train derailment, suggesting that the President’s calendar was too packed for such commitments.

White House officials rebutted claims that Trump’s actions influenced their strategy, indicating that Biden’s trip to Michigan was initiated by an invitation from UAW President Shawn Fain. Despite the UAW strike’s expansion into 20 states, the Biden administration faces a complex challenge, as part of the union’s discontent lies in the industry’s gradual shift to electric vehicles.

Workers on the picket line had mixed feelings about Biden’s visit and his policy towards electric vehicles. Some questioned whether the President’s appearance was more about political optics than genuine support for the working class.

While the White House does not play an official role in the labor negotiations, it did rescind an earlier decision to send key aides to Michigan, concluding that advisers Gene Sperling and acting Labor Secretary Julie Su would be more effective if they monitored the talks from Washington.

This report includes contributions from reporters based in Van Buren Township, Michigan, and Summerville, South Carolina.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Biden UAW Strike Participation

What unprecedented action did President Biden take regarding the UAW strike?

President Biden chose to stand with United Auto Workers (UAW) during their ongoing strike against major automakers. This act is considered unprecedented in U.S. presidential history as no sitting president has joined an active labor strike before.

Who are the United Auto Workers (UAW)?

The United Auto Workers (UAW) is a labor union that represents workers in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. They are currently on strike against key automakers, pushing for various demands including a 40% increase in wages.

How have past presidents approached labor strikes?

Historically, sitting U.S. presidents have abstained from directly participating in labor strikes. They have generally seen themselves as mediators between labor and management, rather than active participants in the strikes.

What specific demands are the UAW making in their strike?

While the article does not enumerate all the demands, it mentions that the UAW is seeking a 40% hike in wages and full-time pay for a 32-hour workweek among other things.

What is public opinion on labor unions currently?

According to a recent Gallup poll cited in the text, 67% of Americans approve of labor unions. This broad support is a backdrop against which President Biden’s actions are unfolding.

How has former President Donald Trump reacted to the UAW strike?

Former President Donald Trump plans to meet with striking autoworkers in Michigan. His campaign adviser criticized Biden for not attending to other commitments, suggesting this visit is aimed at leveraging dissatisfaction with the current administration.

What challenges does the shift to electric vehicles pose to the UAW strike?

The shift from gasoline-powered to electric vehicles is a source of concern for the union. Electric vehicles require fewer workers for manufacturing, and there’s no assurance that factories producing them will be unionized.

What has been the White House’s stance on the UAW’s specific demands?

The White House has not specifically endorsed the UAW’s demands. While President Biden has argued that auto companies have not gone far enough to satisfy the union, officials have declined to provide details on whether they support particular demands.

More about Biden UAW Strike Participation

  • UAW Official Website
  • Gallup Poll on Labor Union Approval
  • History of U.S. Presidential Involvement in Labor Strikes
  • Biden Administration’s Labor Policies
  • The Transition to Electric Vehicles and its Impact on Labor
  • Donald Trump’s Union Policies and Involvements

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7 comments

EllieMae September 26, 2023 - 3:15 pm

It’s a double-edged sword, isn’t it? On one hand, it’s refreshing to see a president stand with the workers. But then what about the broader implications on the economy?

Reply
Tom_Richards September 26, 2023 - 10:50 pm

This doesn’t sit well with me. Presidents should stay neutral and mediate. Taking sides seems irresponsible to me, specially given the stakes.

Reply
Rick_G September 26, 2023 - 10:57 pm

Trump’s going there too, huh? Seems like the UAW’s strike is turning into a political battleground more than anything.

Reply
SandyT September 26, 2023 - 10:57 pm

Interesting how presidents never did this b4. I mean, why now? makes u wonder what’s changed in politics or maybe its just Biden’s style.

Reply
MikeJansen September 27, 2023 - 4:52 am

Wow, never thought I’d see the day a sitting president joins a strike. Bold move from Biden, but what’s the endgame here?

Reply
JanineP September 27, 2023 - 6:23 am

Unprecedented, yes. But can’t forget that unions gave up a lot during the recession years. Its about time they got some high-profile support, imo.

Reply
AlexK September 27, 2023 - 9:51 am

Electric cars are the future, but what happens to the workers? Biden needs to address this too if he’s gonna stand with them.

Reply

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