Former President Donald Trump

Former President Donald Trump speaks at nonunion Drake Enterprises in Clinton Township, Michigan on September 27, 2023.

(Photo: Nic Antaya for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

'Doesn't Make a Damn Bit of Difference': Trump Belittles UAW Strike in Speech at Nonunion Plant

"I mean, I watch you out there with the pickets," said the former president, "but I don't think you're picketing for the right thing."

Former President Donald Trump used his speech at a nonunion plant in Clinton Township, Michigan Wednesday night to simultaneously posture as a lifelong champion of workers and denigrate the United Auto Workers' historic strike against the Big Three U.S. car manufacturers, dismissing the union's fight for better wages and benefits as effectively meaningless.

"I don't care what you get in the next two weeks or three weeks or five weeks," Trump said. "They're going to be closing up and they're going to be building those cars in China and other places. It's a hit job in Michigan and on Detroit."

It was a theme the former president and 2024 GOP frontrunner hit repeatedly throughout his remarks at Drake Enterprises, a truck parts manufacturer that offered to host Trump's rally: The electric vehicle transition and the Biden administration's efforts to accelerate it are going to send jobs overseas and leave the U.S. automobile industry in ruins.

"It doesn't make a damn bit of difference what you get because in two years you're all going to be out of business, you're not getting anything," Trump said. "I mean, I watch you out there with the pickets, but I don't think you're picketing for the right thing."

The former president repeatedly and falsely accused the Biden administration of attempting to bring about a "transition to hell" and impose "electric vehicle mandates that will spell the death of the American auto industry," a narrative that was also prominent during the Republican primary debate that Trump skipped.

Kevin Munoz, a spokesperson for President Joe Biden's 2024 reelection campaign, said in response that Trump is "lying about President Biden's agenda to distract from his failed track record of trickle-down tax cuts, closed factories, and jobs outsourced to China." During Trump's four years in office, the offshoring of U.S. jobs increased.

"There is no 'EV mandate.' Simply put: Trump had the United States losing the EV race to China and if he had his way, the jobs of the future would be going to China," said Munoz. "President Biden is delivering where Donald Trump failed by bringing manufacturing back home, and with it, good-paying jobs for the American people."

As HuffPost's Jonathan Cohn reported late Wednesday, "Since Biden took office in January 2021, total auto industry employment in the U.S. has risen from about 948,000 to 1,073,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's a monthly rate of about 4,000 new auto jobs a month."

Challenging the notion that the Biden administration's EV policies are imperiling the U.S. auto industry, Cohn noted that electric vehicle subsidies in the Inflation Reduction Act "will close the cost gap so that companies manufacturing electric vehicles and their parts can compete."

"And there are lots of signs that the effort is working," Cohn wrote. "Auto companies have announced plans to build literally dozens of new factories in the U.S., many in what's coming to be known as the 'battery belt,' stretching from Georgia in the South to Michigan in the North. They are expected to generate hundreds of thousands of jobs directly, plus many more (along with economic growth) indirectly."

The UAW leadership has made clear that, unlike Trump, it doesn't oppose the transition to electric vehicles.

Rather, the union wants policymakers to ensure that EV manufacturing jobs are unionized. UAW president Shawn Fain has criticized Biden—who joined union members on the picket line earlier this week—for not doing enough to prevent a "race to the bottom" in the EV transition as automakers increasingly invest in the nonunion U.S. South.

Fain has also not been shy about his feelings toward the former president.

"I don't think the man has any bit of care about what our workers stand for, what the working class stands for," Fain said in a CNN appearance on Tuesday. "He serves the billionaire class, and that's what's wrong with this country."

"People are trying to push that this is organic, but it's not. Trump is curating a crowd, and it pisses me off."

Trump—who has repeatedly called on the UAW to endorse his presidential run—didn't respond Wednesday when asked by a reporter whether he supports the union's push for a nearly 40% wage increase for autoworkers, who have seen their hourly pay decline sharply over the past two decades.

During his speech, Trump "didn't specifically address demands made by autoworkers, other than to say he would protect jobs in a way that would lead to higher wages," the Detroit Free Press reported.

"But he left it unclear how he would do so," the newspaper added, "given that he didn't demand specific wage increases as president."

It's not clear how many union members were in the audience at Trump's speech, though some were waving "Auto Workers for Trump" and "Union Members for Trump" signs. One individual who held a "Union Members for Trump" sign during the rally admitted to a reporter for The Detroit News that she's not a union member.

"Another person with a sign that read 'Auto Workers for Trump' said he wasn't an auto worker when asked for an interview. Both people didn't provide their names," the outlet reported.

Chris Marchione, political director of the International Union of Painters and Allied TradesDistrict Council 1M in Michigan, toldJacobin's Alex Press that at least one local "right-to-work" activist assisted the Trump campaign in organizing Wednesday's rally.

"People are trying to push that this is organic, but it's not," Marchione said. "Trump is curating a crowd, and it pisses me off. If he wants to support union workers, pay the fucking glaziers who got screwed when they put the windows on Trump Tower."

Ahead of Trump's Michigan visit, the AFL-CIO said in a statement that Trump's presidency was "catastrophic for workers," pointing to his anti-union appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, defense of so-called "right-to-work" laws, repeal of Labor Department rules aimed at protecting worker pay, and failure to protect manufacturing jobs.

"The idea that Donald Trump has ever, or will ever, care about working people is demonstrably false," said AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler. "For his entire time as president, he actively sought to roll back worker protections, wages, and the right to join a union at every level."

"UAW members are on the picket line fighting for fair wages and against the very corporate greed that Donald Trump represents," Shuler added. "Working people see through his transparent efforts to reinvent history. We are not buying the lies that Donald Trump is selling. We will continue to support and organize for the causes and candidates that represent our values."

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