Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Union Label

President Biden will travel to Michigan today to walk a picket line in support of the UAW strike against the automakers.  It’s the first time a president has shown such support for union labor, although the Democratic Party has tried aligned itself with labor since the 1930’s.  They haven’t always succeeded.

Alexander Sammon in Slate:

Already, the political press was referring to Biden’s relationship to the strike as “historic” after the president called for “record contracts” for the UAW, pointing to the automakers’ record profits. And now Biden has gone a step further, becoming the first president in memory to commit to joining striking workers on the line. In a phone call, Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy at the University of California, Santa Barbara, agreed that the move was “historic, certainly,” he said. “The old centrist Democratic thing would be to encourage both sides back to the negotiating table and come to an agreement quickly.”

The strike is a huge moment for organized labor in the United States, which is enjoying the greatest public support it’s seen in decades, but makes up a still-dwindling percentage of the labor force. It’s also a huge moment for the Democratic Party. Joe Biden, the self-proclaimed most pro-union president in history, heads to Michigan with a chance to atone for 30 years of intermittent policy sins by Democratic presidents against organized labor and the auto industry—not to mention the state of Michigan.

The line workers have been turning more and more Republican over the last fifty years, a backlash against the hippies and anti-war progressives who turned up their noses at Joe Hardhat.  But it’s been a steady return for union support from the Democrats, including such policies as Obamacare and support for child tax credits.  The Republicans have talked the talk of seeking out the support of the working class by going after such abstracts as the culture wars: reproductive rights, attacking drag queens and school libraries because they think that energizes them to vote against their own self-interests.  It worked for a while; it’s how we got Ronald Reagan, the former president of a union who fired an entire unionized workforce, and Republican congresses that voted against fair pay for women and gave corporations a pulse.

There’s basically no path back to the White House that doesn’t run through Michigan. Democrats in the state have had a ton of momentum of late, winning narrow majorities and passing impressive and meaningful legislation.

How they have accomplished that is notable: One of the first things Democrats did with their new majority was pledge to get rid of anti-union, right-to-work legislation, which was formally repealed in March. State Dems have shown national Dems the way to succeed in the swing state: Don’t be cautious about supporting organized labor.

Already, the UAW’s actions have succeeded in several ways. Ford has agreed to end tiers and add cost-of-living raises; major wage increases look like a certainty (GM and Stellantis are the holdouts). The victory of that new contract, when it’s finally signed, will be powerful proof of the value of paying union dues, and make it much, much more difficult for nonunion plants at Toyota and Tesla to repel unionization efforts to come. These represent huge victories for Biden’s vision of industrial policy, what we’re now being urged to call Bidenomics.

Solidarity forever, Joe.