“The historic significance of President Biden’s decision to join striking workers on the picket line cannot be understated. Instead of taking on the role of mediator—and falling victim to both-sides-ism in the process—Biden is standing unequivocally with workers.”
By Jake Johnson
Joe Biden on Tuesday became the first sitting U.S. president to join striking workers on a picket line, rallying with United Auto Workers members outside of a General Motors plant in Belleville, Michigan as they fight for a fair contract.
“You saved the automobile industry back in 2008,” Biden said in brief remarks to the Michigan workers. “You made a lot of sacrifices, you gave up a lot, and the companies were in trouble. But now they’re doing incredibly well. You should be doing incredibly well, too.”
“Wall Street didn’t build the country, the middle class built the country,” the president said. “And unions built the middle class. So let’s keep going. You deserve what you’ve earned, and you’ve earned a hell of a lot more than you’re getting paid now.”
The president’s visit to the picket line comes days after the UAW expanded its strikes to every General Motors and Stellantis parts distribution facility in the U.S., accusing the two companies of refusing to seriously engage with union negotiators.
More than 18,000 autoworkers in 21 states are currently on strike against General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis, pushing the so-called Big Three automakers to deliver significant pay and benefit improvements after years of surging profits and declining real wages. Survey data released Monday shows that public support for the strikes is growing, with 62% of likely U.S. voters—regardless of party affiliation—backing the walkouts.
When asked by a reporter, Biden said he supports a 40% wage increase for UAW workers.
Labor historians say they’re not aware of any other case of a sitting U.S. president rallying with striking workers in this way.
“This is genuinely new—I don’t think it’s ever happened before, a president on a picket line,” Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told veteran labor journalist Steven Greenhouse on Tuesday. “Candidates do it frequently and prominent senators, but not a president.”
UAW president Shawn Fain, who accompanied Biden at the Belleville picket line, thanked Biden for “being a part of this fight.”
“We know the president will do right by the working class,” said Fain, “and when we do right by the working class, you can leave the rest to us, because we’re going to take care of this business.”
Biden’s visited striking autoworkers a day before former President Donald Trump—the GOP’s 2024 presidential frontrunner—is scheduled to speak to hundreds of workers at Drake Enterprises, a nonunion auto parts supplier in Clinton Township, Michigan.
Morris Pearl, chair of the Patriotic Millionaires, said in a statement that “the historic significance of President Biden’s decision to join striking workers on the picket line cannot be understated.”
“Instead of taking on the role of mediator—and falling victim to both-sides-ism in the process—Biden is standing unequivocally with workers who have been denied a share in the prosperity of the Big Three automakers,” said Pearl.
“Biden’s fight on behalf of workers must not end here,” Pearl added. “To ensure his support is more than symbolic, he must use this historic moment to ensure that workers in all industries share in growing prosperity with their employers. While this is an important step, there remains significant work to do. We look forward to seeing which tangible steps President Biden takes to further support American workers.”
Jake Johnson is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams, where this article first appeared. Licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely. Photo from @AFL-CIO, posted on X / Twitter.