US President Joe Biden joined striking auto workers on the picket line in Michigan on Tuesday, marking a historic first for a sitting US president.
This comes a day before rival Donald Trump makes his bid for the blue-collar vote in the battleground electoral state.
Wearing a baseball cap with the logo of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, the 80-year-old Democrat addressed banner-waving employees through a megaphone, expressing his solidarity.
Republican Trump is scheduled to visit Michigan on Wednesday, setting the stage for a bitter early confrontation between the two top candidates in an election still over a year away.
Biden conveyed to the workers that the “Big Three” automakers – Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis – were “doing incredibly well, and guess what? You should be doing incredibly well too.”
He received cheers from the crowd when he stated, “You deserve the significant raise you need and other benefits.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre described the trip as “historic,” emphasising, “Today will mark the first time a sitting president has visited a picket line in modern times. This is an important message to America’s auto workers.”
The UAW’s outspoken chief, Shawn Fain, welcomed Biden on the tarmac in Detroit and accompanied him to the picket line.
For Biden, who faces concerns about his poll ratings, his age, and the economy, this trip represents a golden opportunity to connect with working-class and union members.
“That is huge,” exclaimed auto worker Patrick Smaller, 56, about Biden’s visit as he stood on the picket line outside a massive Ford plant in Wayne County, Michigan on Tuesday. “He believes in what we stand for.”
As cars and trucks honked in support, another worker, Tiara Conner, praised Biden’s visit as “great.” She expressed that she was “not surprised” by Trump’s impending visit and added, “I just hope that he (Trump) is also here for the right reasons and standing in solidarity with us.”
Both the current and former presidents are vying for the blue-collar vote in Michigan, a crucial swing state that Trump won in 2016 but Biden flipped back in 2020. Their messages in the state differ significantly as they anticipate a rematch next year.
Biden has consistently emphasised his pro-union credentials, with an endorsement from the United Auto Workers (UAW) union playing a pivotal role in his election victory three years ago. “I always support the UAW,” Biden reiterated on Monday.
Conversely, Trump is focusing on winning back the working-class voters who helped him secure the White House in 2016, rather than seeking support from unions with which he has had contentious relations.
Trump has been critical of Biden’s efforts to fund a shift towards more environmentally friendly electric vehicles, contending that it is leading to job outsourcing. “Remember he wants to take your jobs away and give them to China,” Trump wrote on his social media site, Truth Social.
Trump has also accused Biden of mimicking his plans and merely “pretending” to support the workers on strike. However, Biden asserts that his push for electric vehicles is part of a broader strategy to repatriate manufacturing jobs to the United States and position the nation as a leader in the global race to develop green technology.
Jean-Pierre emphasised that Biden is “fighting to ensure that the cars of the future will be built in America, by unionised American workers in good-paying jobs, instead of being built in China.”
Biden’s Michigan trip carries a political risk as he must navigate a fine line between supporting the workers and seeking to resolve a strike that is costing the economy billions of dollars.
The White House fielded numerous questions about whether Biden was taking sides in the dispute, asserting that the president sought a “win-win” agreement and would not intervene in negotiations.