Joe Biden backs 40% pay rise for striking autoworkers

Joe Biden tells strikers "you deserve a hell of a lot more than you’re getting paid now"

On Tuesday Joe Biden became the first US President to join striking workers on a picket line. Biden travelled to Michigan where autoworkers were on their second week of strikes and expressed his support in their fight for a 40% pay rise.

His appearance was historic, with no previous sitting US President having joined strikers on a picket line before, and highlighted a significant moment in US politics where the discourse is siding with workers, over corporations.

In his initial short speech on the picket line, Biden praised the autoworkers for their sacrifice and contribution to the industry.

“You saved the automobile industry back in 2008 and before. You made a lot of sacrifices, gave up a lot when the companies were in trouble,” said Biden. “Now, they’re doing incredibly well and guess what, you should be doing incredibly well too.”

He added: “Stick with it, because you deserve the significant raise you need and other benefits. Let’s get back what we lost.”

In a follow-up speech, Biden praised unions: “Wall street didn’t build the country, the middle class built the country. Unions built the middle class, that’s a fact.

“You deserve what you’ve earned and you’ve earned a hell of a lot more than you’re getting paid now.”

When asked if he supported the 40% increase asked for by the union, Biden said yes, and that they should be able to bargain for that.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) initially asked for a 40% wage rise over four year, this was based off the approximate 40% pay increase the CEO’s of the Big Three employers have themselves gained over four years.

The dispute has helped highlight general sky rocketing CEO pay in teh USA, with figures showing the average US CEO now makes nearly 400 times that of workers – an issue unions like Unite in the UK have also been calling out time and time again.

Speaking in an interview after, Shawn Fain, UAW president, said the President’s visit, “goes a long way in showing where he stands with working class people.”

But their relationship hasn’t always been this rosy. The UAW has declined to support the 2024 presidential candidate, making it the only union not to back Biden. Fain has been critical of the administration over federal loans to automakers to build EV battery plants.

One of the conditions the union is fight for from employers is job security and for a just transition to electric vehicles, which has threatened to close plants and put jobs at risk. The union argues the historic transition can be done whilst raising autoworker job standards, rather than lowering them.

They are also seeking to restore cost-of-living adjustments, for a 32-hour work week with 40 hour pay, union representation at new battery plants and the restoration of traditional-defined benefit pensions for new hires and pension rises.

 Michigan is also a crucial swing state and, as Biden seeks a re-election, it is certainly worth having unions on your side, especially with union support in the US at its highest point since 1965.

(Image: Sky News / YouTube)

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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