Rarely do so many parts of a president’s political identity collide in one place.
Friday’s United Auto Workers strike is a real-time test of President Biden’s economic agenda: his call for higher wages for the middle class; his remorseless pro-union position; his climate-driven push to reimagine an electric vehicle future for auto companies, centered on Michigan, a state he must win in 2024 to remain in the Oval Office.
He targeted attack by some members of the 150,000-member union is designed to disrupt one of America’s oldest industries at a time when Biden is sharpening the contrast between what rivals and allies call “Bidenomy” and a Republican plan that the President, it’s a darker version. of a trickle-down economy that mainly benefits the rich.
“Their plan, MAGAnomics, is more extreme than anything America has seen before,” Biden said Thursday, just hours before the union voted to strike.
At the White House, Biden’s advisers believe the outcome of the battle between auto companies and their workers will underscore many of the president’s arguments about the need to reduce income inequality, the benefits of empowered employees and the profit increase For companies like automakers that allows them to afford higher wages.
“We have to rebuild the middle class here and build things again,” said Eddie Vale, a veteran Democratic strategist who for years worked for the AFL-CIO. “You have green energy, technology and jobs. You have important states for elections. So all of these are together here in a whirlpool.”
“If not handled correctly, there are political and policy risks,” Vale said, but added: “Ultimately, Biden will be able to play a role as an honest broker here.”
Those risks were already beginning to be evident on Friday morning. In a scathing statement, the head of the US Chamber of Commerce blamed the attack on Biden.
“The UAW strike and, indeed, the ‘summer of strikes’ is the natural result of the Biden administration’s ‘whole of government’ approach to promoting unionization at all costs,” said Suzanne P. Clark, the group’s president. largest business lobby in the country.
He predicted the strike will have “far-reaching negative consequences for our economy.”
Unlike previous strikes involving railroad workers or air traffic controllers, Biden has no special legal authority to intervene. In the current situation, he is not in control, although he is not exactly a simple observer either.
Just before the strike vote, Biden called Shawn Fain, president of the UAW, as well as top executives from the auto companies. Aides said the president told the parties to make sure workers got a fair contract and urged both sides to stay at the negotiating table.
That didn’t happen. Economists say a prolonged strike, if it lasts weeks or even months, could be a blow to the American economyespecially in the center of the country.
How Biden handles the situation could have a significant 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 worsened, not improved, economic conditions in the United States.
The fact that the strike is focused on Michigan is also critical. Biden won the state over former President Donald J. Trump with just over 50 percent of the vote. Without the state’s 16 electoral votes, Biden would not have defeated his rival.
Even so, the president remains firm in his policies towards both unions and the environment. In a Labor Day speech in Philadelphia, Biden renewed both his vision for what he called a “transition to a made-in-America electric vehicle future” (which he said will protect jobs) and his strong belief in unions. .
“You know, there are a lot of politicians in this country who don’t know how to say the word ‘union,’” he said. “They talk about work, but they don’t say ‘union.’ It is ‘union’. I’m one of the… I’m proud to say ‘union’. “I am proud to be the most pro-union president.”