Despite trying to stay away from politicians during last year’s labor strike, United Auto Workers’ leadership endorsed Joe Biden for president on Wednesday. This comes after union-head Shawn Fain said UAW dealings with domestic automakers would not be undermined by those seeking to garner political support. Now, Fain is backing Biden on claims that his administration supports the American workforce.
“Elections aren’t about picking your best friend for the job or the candidate who makes you feel good. Elections are about power,” UAW President Shawn Fain said during the union’s National Community Action Program Conference.
“This November, we can stand up and elect someone who stands with us and supports our cause, or we can elect someone who will fight us and divide us every step of the way. That’s what this choice is about. The question is, who do we want in that office to give us the best shot at winning?”
Due to the UAW and AFL-CIO both historically backing the Democrats, none of this should come as a major surprise. However, one of the reasons the UAW was hesitant to openly seek support during contract negotiations was down to how politically fractured union members have become. While leadership may be comfortable throwing its weight behind the Biden administration, line-workers are less convinced. Exit polls from 2020 showed that nearly half of the UAW members who voted supported Trump.
This mirrors anecdotal evidence accumulated by your author, with members signaling a roughly even political split. However, those who are undecided have expressed that their main concerns are economic and they have major reservations about how things have played out these last few years. Most have also said that they aren’t broadly trusting of union leadership, even though most still said they thought Fain’s team negotiated a solid deal with General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis.
Then there’s the electrification issue. Whereas the Biden administration has spent billions subsidizing electric vehicles and battery production — claiming it would help bolster American jobs — Trump has warned that a forced push toward electrification would be catastrophic for the economy and gradually erode domestic employment. The latter has asserted that modern regulations are making vehicles too expensive and encouraging the offshoring of domestic jobs while the former has claimed subsidizing EVs is securing good for workers in the long term.
The truth of the matter is quite a bit more nuanced, however. Automakers have long believed that shifting toward EVs would reduce the number of hands on most assembly lines. In fact, Germany’s largest labor union (IG Metall) has come out against electrification on those very grounds — noting that the vast majority of battery production already takes place in China. But creating sound opportunities for domestic battery production may be the only real solution if the world really is actually pivoting toward mandating EVs and banning combustion vehicles.
Back in late 2021, Biden told automakers he expects EVs to make up 50 percent of new vehicle sales by 2030. While the shift is said to be voluntary, government regulations are quickly reaching a point where automakers are effectively having to build EVs to comply. Meanwhile, individual states (e.g. California) are implementing timelines for combustion vehicles to be phased out.
It’s unclear if the average UAW member is taking any of that into account. But they’ve at least said economic and employment issues will play a significant role in who they decide to support. Either way, union leadership has made its decision crystal clear.
During his speech, Fain said Biden bet on the American worker while Trump blamed them. He also played a video from the UAW strike when Biden visited the picket lines last September. At the time, Fain decried the move as a media stunt he refused to endorse. Now, he’s literally using the footage taken on that day to endorse that very same man for president.
“Today I’m proud to announce that UAW is endorsing Joe Biden for President of the United States,” Fain yelled from the convention floor. “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. UAW family, let’s stand up and welcome the man who stood up for us. Please welcome the current President of the United States, the man we will re-elect, Joe Biden!”
Those interested in watching the relevant portion of the union’s national Community Action Program conference, including Biden’s speech, can find the footage here.
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