The thorny politics of the UAW strike – POLITICO

FEAR FACTOR — With a broadside against the major car companies, the press and the White House, UAW President Shawn Fain offered a revealing glimpse into the stakes of the union’s strike against General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, as well as the thorny politics now confronting President Joe Biden.

“Working people are not afraid,” Fain said in a statement on Friday announcing the walkout. “You know who’s afraid? The corporate media is afraid. The White House is afraid. The companies are afraid.”

The shotgun blast from the longtime Democratic Party ally reflected Fain’s discontent with the Biden administration, which was amplified on Sunday when the UAW head argued that a 2024 endorsement of Biden from the union still has to be “earned” (the UAW endorsed Biden in 2020). Fain is well aware of the political implications of his actions: The strike of a Ford Motor plant in Wayne, Michigan, complicates the president’s reelection chances in a key industrial swing state. And the walkout also enables Biden’s most likely 2024 opponent — former President Donald Trump — to milk the conflict, with Trump now reportedly planning a visit to Detroit to deliver a speech to union members on the day of the next Republican presidential debate.

The reactions of both political parties so far, however, suggest neither adequately grasps the scope or goals of the strike. The UAW’s attempt to claw back benefits they gave up in previous union contracts, along with their unwillingness to rubber stamp a transition to making electric vehicles, doesn’t fit neatly into the Democrats’ or Republicans’ agenda.

“Fain is more militant [than past UAW leaders]; he is less inclined to adopt a philosophy of ‘business unionism,’ in which the unions have a symbiotic relationship with the companies… and work together to achieve mutual goals,” said Marick Masters, a professor at Wayne State University who’s the director of the Labor@Wayne program and has written extensively on the history of the UAW.

And while Biden has continued to make pro-UAW statements in public, his administration’s tack has been more in line with the business unionism that marked organized labor’s approach in recent decades.

The “win win” idea that characterizes business unionism may have been plausible for auto manufacturers and their workers in the past, but specific conditions surrounding the current strike have changed the equation.

First, there’s the fact that this is about more than just meeting in the middle on a wage increase. The UAW is asking for a restoration of some benefits they gave away in union contracts in the past, in particular post-2008 as the economy was reeling. These include retiree health care, the return to a traditional pension system and a cost of living allowance. According to Masters, the union and the Big Three car companies might be able to reach a deal on wages, but if the UAW is insistent about regaining all of these other benefits, “the strike is going to last for some time.”

Then, there’s the issue of electric vehicles. As the Biden administration pushes American auto manufacturers to build more electric cars, the union remains concerned that investment in EVs requires companies to invest more in plant upgrades and less in workers, while companies like Tesla use non-union plants to build their cars. Fain has repeatedly said he wants to avoid this directional switch becoming a “race to the bottom.”

Biden has already pulled multiple levers to get the sides closer to a deal. At the end of August, he announced a $15.5 billion package of funding and loans to support the EV transition. When the strike began, he dispatched White House adviser Gene Sperling and Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su to Detroit to help broker a deal. But today, Fain downplayed the Biden administration’s role in talks. He said “no, not at all,” when asked on MSNBC’s Morning Joe whether the White House would help broker a deal. “This battle is not about the president,” Fain said.

The UAW leadership’s suspicion of Biden, however, is no guarantee that Trump will be able to peel off union support in the Midwest like he did in 2016. “Trump is tearing a page from the playbook of 2016 — then his focus was on trade policy, this time it’s on electrification. He’s basically saying leadership is out of touch with the membership,” Masters said. “But I don’t think the conditions politically are as ripe for that as they were in 2016.”

Exit polls indicate that Trump lost union households by only eight percentage points in 2016, the best performance by a Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan won a landslide in 1984. But in 2020, the gap was back up to 17 points.

Trump has sought to drive a wedge between Fain and the rank and file, saying late last month, “Don’t listen to these union people who get paid a lot of money. They get wined and dined in Washington, they know that electric cars are no good in terms of our workers.” But ironically, Fain’s consistent public pressure campaign against Biden has neutered the idea that UAW leadership is listening to elected Democrats over their base.

That leaves a president who’s thus far frustrated the UAW by not going far enough to support their efforts, and his likely opponent who sees an opportunity to chip away a key part of the Democratic coalition. Don’t expect a quick resolution: Fain said this morning there’s a “long way to go” to reach an agreement.

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— McCarthy commits to moving ahead on the GOP’s stopgap spending bill, despite conservative opposition: Speaker Kevin McCarthy still plans to bring up the GOP’s short-term plan to fund the government in a vote on Thursday, even as his members indicate it’s doomed. McCarthy, during a series of gaggles with reporters in the Capitol today, didn’t rule out that Republicans could change the stopgap bill, which would keep the government funded through October while cutting certain domestic spending and ramping up border security policies. The plan was crafted by centrists in the Main Street Caucus and hardliners in the House Freedom Caucus, though multiple members of the latter group have already castigated the proposal and promised to oppose it.

Virginia Democrat will not seek reelection, citing new diagnosis: Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) announced today that she will not seek reelection after receiving an updated, more serious diagnosis of progressive supranuclear palsy. Wexton revealed in April that she’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, saying at the time that she hoped to continue serving “for many years to come.” She was elected in 2018 when she defeated Republican Barbara Comstock and ended 40 years of GOP control of the district. Wexton’s announcement today now leaves open a vulnerable House seat.

— Hunter Biden sues IRS, alleging violation of his privacy: Hunter Biden, the president’s son, is suing the IRS over disclosures two agents there made to Congress and the media about his taxes. The lawsuit says two longtime IRS criminal investigative agents, Gary Shapley and Joseph Ziegler, illegally revealed tax details when they publicly raised concerns about the handling of the criminal investigation into the first son. It also accuses the IRS of failing to keep the two men from sharing Biden’s financial information.

14TH AMENDMENT UPDATE — Democrats in the California Legislature are trying a novel approach to remove former President Donald Trump from the state’s March 5 primary ballot. But first they need a fellow state Democrat to get on board the long-shot effort.

Nine California lawmakers wrote a letter to Attorney General Rob Bonta over the weekend, reports POLITICO, arguing that Trump isn’t eligible to be on the ballot for inciting an insurrection when a mob of his supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The move, which comes amid several lawsuits to keep Trump off state ballots across the country, is unique because Bonta could use his standing as California’s top law enforcement officer to expedite a state court ruling on the matter. Should the effort succeed, California could be the first state to bump Trump off its ballot, even if the ruling is ultimately overturned.

PLAYING BOTH SIDES — It resembled a political rally more than a news conference. In November 2021, exactly one year after Donald J. Trump lost the presidential election to Joseph R. Biden Jr., Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida spoke to a raucous crowd in a hotel conference room just a few miles from Mr. Trump’s home base of Mar-a-Lago, writes the New York Times.

Their suspicions about vast election malfeasance would be heard, Mr. DeSantis promised. He was setting up an election police unit and he invited the crowd to send in tips about illegal “ballot harvesting,” nodding to an unfounded theory about Democrats collecting ballots in bulk. But in his seven-minute, tough-on-election-crimes sermon, Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, never explicitly endorsed that theory or the many others spread by the defeated president and embraced by much of their party.

In this way, for nearly three years, Mr. DeSantis played both sides of Republicans’ rift over the 2020 election. As his state became a buzzing hub of the election denial movement, he repeatedly took actions that placated those who believed Mr. Trump had won. Most prominent was the creation of an election crimes unit that surfaced scores of “zany-burger” tips, according to its former leader, disrupted the lives of a few dozen Floridians, and, one year in, has not yet led to any charges of ballot harvesting or uncovered other mass fraud.

OLD SCHOOL — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says he managed to “withstand seven years of indoctrination” at Yale and Harvard. Businessman and political upstart Vivek Ramaswamy laments those universities as “once special institutions that now engage in self-destructive practices.”

The two presidential candidates are among a growing class of Republican Ivy Leaguers who are bashing their alma maters to appeal to populist voters, reports the Wall Street Journal. What they don’t mention is how much those degrees paved the way for their ascent into the highest levels of politics and business.

Their strategy is a response to the educational realignment of the two political parties. Republican politicians, who for generations burnished Ivy League credentials with pride, now must avoid alienating the large share of Republican voters who never went to college at all.

LET’S MAKE A DEAL — Five Americans who were detained in Iran arrived in Doha, Qatar today on their journey back to the United States as part of a much-discussed prisoner exchange between the U.S. and Iran, writes Eric Bazail-Eimil.

The group includes Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi, Morad Tahbaz and two others who have asked to remain private. They were all moved from Iranian prisons to hotel or house arrest in August as a first step in the deal. Namazi’s mother and Tahbaz’s wife, both of whom were also previously unable to leave Iran, joined the detainees.

“Today, five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally coming home,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. Biden thanked the governments of Switzerland, Qatar, Oman and South Korea for their assistance in the negotiations.

As part of the deal, the U.S. has granted clemency to five Iranians who were charged or convicted with nonviolent crimes. Two of those five will also transit via Doha. The White House also confirmed that Iran will also receive access to some $6 billion of proceeds of oil sales to South Korea via a restricted account in Qatar. The sales occurred during a window when trade with Iran was not sanctioned, but the funds were left stuck in South Korea once sanctions were reimposed as a result of currency conversion issues, senior administration officials explained.

TOUGH TIMES — Italy’s right-wing government has launched a crackdown on immigration, passing measures to give authorities power to detain migrants for as long as 18 months, and ordering the construction of new centers to house them, writes Hannah Roberts.

The hard-line reforms follow a surge in arrivals by boat this month, with more than 10,000 people landing on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, a number greater than its usual resident population. Lampedusa, just over 60 miles off the coast of Tunisia, is the gateway to Europe for many migrants seeking a new life.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni came to power a year ago promising to curb immigration but arrivals have almost doubled in 2023, year on year, according to government data. Today, the Rome cabinet passed measures to increase the length of time illegal migrants can be held from three to 18 months, according to an official in the prime minister’s office. Ministers also approved the construction of new detention centers intended to hold all those who arrive without a visa until they are deemed to have a right to asylum or are repatriated.

“We will have all the necessary time not just to do the necessary checks but also to proceed with the repatriation for those without the right to international protection,” Meloni said. The battle against immigration is “an epochal battle for Italy and Europe,” she said.

FOLLOW THE MONEY — A synthetic, amphetamine-type stimulant called Captagon has been sweeping the Middle East, concerning some governments enough that they’ve gone to the Arab League in an attempt to find a solution to burgeoning consumption of the drug. The problem is the source of the crisis is the upper reaches of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, which controls much of the trade of Captagon. Al-Assad has used the significant profits from Captagon to fund the protracted civil war in Syria, causing some of his neighbors to reconsider similar sanctions to the ones that continue to be imposed by countries including the U.S. Justin Salhani reports for The Dial.

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