President Joe Biden’s brief visit in September to a union picket line in Ypsilanti, Michigan during the United Auto Workers strike against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis is paying off with an UAW endorsement of Biden’s re-election.
“This November, we can stand up and elect someone who wants to stand with us and support our cause. Or we can elect someone who will divide us and fight us every step of the way,” said UAW President Shawn Fain, adding it’s not about Democrats or Republicans but about power and influence.
Biden is best candidate: Fain
“That is what this choice is about. The question is, who do we want in that office to give us the best shot of winning? Of organizing. Of negotiating strong contracts. Of uniting the working class and winning our fair share once again, as our union has done so many times in our nation’s history,” Fain noted as he outlined reasons for supporting Biden’s re-election at the end of the UAW’s annual political conference in Washington D.C. this week.
“We need to know who’s going to sit in the most powerful seat in the world and help us win as a united working class,” said Fain, who also used the UAW’s efforts to organize employees at the Volkswagen AG plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee to make the case for Biden and against Trump.
“In 2015, we won our first election of a group of skilled trades workers at Volkswagen, where we’re still organizing today,” Fain recalls during his endorsement.
Fain says Volkswagen defied the law and refused to bargain. “They dragged it out as long as they could because they knew Trump’s National Labor Relations Board would undo our victory. That set us back a decade.
“He doesn’t care about workers,” Fain added. “Donald Trump is a scab. He’s a billionaire and that is who he represents,” Fain added. The only other Republican in the race for GOP nomination, Nikki Haley, has been an outspoken opponent of unions and organized labor.
“President Biden, on the other hand, has made changes at the National Labor Relations Board that have opened new opportunities for organizing,” said Fain. “He has vocally supported workers organizing, and said, at a UAW event: ‘Join, organize, picket, protest. You have a right to form a union, and you cannot be stopped. You cannot be intimidated.’”
Keeping structure in place
He noted that keeping the NLRB union-friendly is critical.
“It matters who runs the National Labor Relations Board, if we are going to grow our union and organize the unorganized,” Fain said.
“Today I am proud to announce that UAW is endorsing Joe Biden for President of the United States. And I am honored to invite Joe Biden to come address our great union and join us in our fight for economic and social justice for the UAW and for the whole working class,” Fain added.
The UAW’s endorsement of Biden followed criticism of the current administration’s policies on Israel and the Middle East. Fain has called for cease fire in Israel’s war in Gaza, and other members of the UAW’s executive board have helped organize and participated in demonstrations around New York City, calling for a broad cease fire in Gaza.
The differences spilled out this week as the UAW conference ratified the Biden endorsement with a handful of delegates staged protested the administration’s support of Israel. The protesters were led out of the hotel ballroom by security as the President spoke. Security at UAW meeting is handled by union members.
Changing makeup of the union
However, the criticism of Biden from inside the union also reflected the UAW’s changing demographics as it recruits new members not only in manufacturing plants but among graduate students, high-tech workers and employees in publishing and museums concentrated on the East and West Coasts. More than 4,000 researchers at the National Institute of Health in Maryland recently voted to join the UAW, and graduate students at Cal Tech are voting next week on whether to join the UAW.
According to The Washington Post, Biden used his appearance at the UAW conference to praise the grit of the union’s members. “You built these companies. You sacrificed to save them, and you deserve to benefit when these companies thrive,” said Biden, recalling the losses UAW members took during the Great Recession, according to The Post.
Harley Shaiken, a University of California labor expert, says the UAW has traditionally supported Democratic candidates, going all the way back to its roots in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal during the 1930s.
The endorsement of Biden is impressive because, “The union has committed the full force of its nearly half-million members.” In an election that is expected to turn on a few thousand votes in a handful of swing states. “The union could be decisive in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania where it has a strong presence,” adds Shaiken, even though it is easy to find Trump supporters in any auto plant.
Patrick Ruffini, a Republican pollster and author of the new book, “Party of The People: The Multiracial Populist Coalition Remaking the GOP,” notes industrial unions such as the UAW are critical to maintaining the Democratic Party’s so called “Blue Wall” in the industrial Midwest and ultimately the Electoral College, which decides the Presidential election in the United States despite the political and economic shift that have made the American working class more conservative and more populist.