Biden becomes first modern president on picket line as he backs Michigan car workers

Trump to speak to current and former union members on Wednesday in second half of ‘showdown in Motown’

US president Joe Biden has become the first occupant of the White House in modern times to walk on a picket line with striking workers.

Mr Biden on Tuesday joined General Motors workers who were on strike at a facility west of the city of Detroit and, speaking through a bullhorn, backed their claims for better pay and conditions.

The president told the workers that they had made a lot of sacrifices when the car manufacturing companies had faced difficulties during the financial crisis in 2008 and on other occasions.

“Now they’re doing incredibly well. And guess what? You should be doing incredibly well, too,” he said.


Mr Biden urged the workers to “stick with it”.

“You deserve a significant raise and other benefits.”

Dressed in a zip-up jumper and a wearing a baseball cap, the president told the workers:

“Wall Street didn’t build this country, the middle class built this country, and unions built the middle class. That’s a fact, so let’s keep going. You deserve what you’ve earned, and you’ve earned a hell of a lot more than you’re getting paid.”

Mr Biden has prided himself since taking office as being the most pro-union president in history.

However, the dispute involving the car workers, who have been on strike for the last 10 days or so, presents both political difficulties and opportunities for the White House.

A lengthy strike which disrupted car manufacturing could add to inflation, which is already causing much concern for ordinary voters.

At the same time states where the car industry has been traditionally based, such as Michigan, are hugely important in the presidential election to take place next year.

The president’s campaign would also like the union to endorse him in the election.

Mr Biden has sought to walk a fine line by showing his backing for the workers without becoming directly involved in negotiations between their union, United Auto Workers (UAW), and the three big unionised car makers in the US – Ford, General Motors and Stellantis.

Just a day after Mr Biden walked the picket line with striking workers, his likely opponent in the election, former president Donald Trump, is scheduled to speak in Michigan to current and former union members – in what is being dubbed in some media in the US as the “showdown in Motown”.

Mr Trump on Monday alleged to car workers in a post on his social media channel that Mr Biden “wants to take your jobs away and give them to China and other foreign countries”.

He said, on the other hand, he would make them rich.

Mr Trump is likely to criticise moves backed by the White House to encourage the transition to electric vehicles – which need fewer workers.

Mr Trump has maintained that the president had no intention of going to the picket line until he learned that he was going to speak in Michigan.

The union is seeking pay increases as well as the restoration of benefits, including pensions, which were diminished as part of cost-saving measures introducing during previous crises in the industry.

They also have concerns about how the move to electric vehicles could impact on their pay and jobs in the years ahead.