Biden tells UAW he plans clean energy factory future
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event on manufacturing and buying American-made products at UAW Region 1 headquarters in Warren, Mich., Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. | Patrick Semansky/AP

WARREN, Mich.—Joe Biden envisions a clean energy factory future for U.S. workers, with a million new jobs for auto workers making electric vehicles, thousands of electrical workers making chargers for them, tax credits for firms that bring jobs back to the U.S., and tax penalties, big time, for companies that ship U.S. jobs abroad.

And that’s just fine with several industrial union leaders.

The Democratic presidential nominee went to Warren, Mich., on September 9, to speak to a crowd of United Auto Workers. He split his speech into two parts: Contrasting GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump’s gaudy job promises with his lousy performance, and promising, himself, to do a lot better.

After all, Biden pointed out, the U.S. auto industry created jobs when he was Barack Obama’s VP, and Biden, the UAW and the Detroit 3 had a big hand in that, by saving two of the three firms, FiatChrysler and GM, from going under in 2009. The cost, though Biden didn’t mention it, was a two-tier wage scale, other cuts and UAW’s takeover of providing health insurance for workers.

By contrast, auto firms and suppliers have lost jobs under Trump, Biden said, as has the economy as a whole. To be precise, he added, the U.S. now has 4.7 million fewer jobs than when Trump took over.

“President Trump has broken just about every promise he’s ever made to the American worker. And he’s failed. He’s failed our economy and our country.”

“But look, would you really expect anything different from this guy? From someone who called those of you and those who are serving in uniform, who have given their lives to the country ‘losers’ and ‘suckers?

“Even before President Trump’s failed response to COVID-19 [the coronavirus] crashed through our economy, his reckless and chaotic trade policy had thrown American manufacturing into recession. It was already contracting in 2019,” before the virus arrived in the U.S., said Biden.

“Under Donald Trump, Michigan lost auto jobs, even before COVID did it.” Once the federal government pulled the Detroit 3 out of the 2008 financial crash, its revival under Obama and Biden created 80,000 new auto jobs in Michigan. Trump, Biden said, has lost a quarter of them.

“Trump was creating an average of 500,000 jobs fewer per year than the last three years when President Obama and I were in office. When the GM transmission plant here in Warren closed last year, I bet the workers around weren’t all that comforted by Trump’s empty promises.”

In the pre-coronavirus economy, vehicles and parts plants accounted for one of every 20 U.S. jobs. The latest federal data list 904,000 U.S. auto plant workers, including at so-called foreign “transplants.” Adding on parts plants, other vehicle plants and gas stations produces 3.8 million jobs, or one of every 37 overall, not counting the truckers. There are no separate figures for truckers who drive car carriers.

And millions more workers—from mom-and-pop diners who feed auto workers lunch to Electrical Workers who energize plants to Teamsters who drive car carriers—depend on the auto industry.

Biden, though, has an expanded vision of auto workers making electric vehicles, a vision he opened by lauding its union workers, in Detroit and elsewhere.

“Here in the heart of the American automobile industry, we never forget everything we owe the unions. And unions, as you’ve heard me say many times, built this country. Unions built the economy. The economic engine has driven American manufacturing dynamism. And literally in the case of the Auto Workers, you’re the ones that did it.”

And those workers, and more, can do it again, building and maintaining electric vehicles and setting up their charging stations, Biden declared. They would also rebuild the nation’s crumbling roads those vehicles otherwise would travel on, under the infrastructure plan Biden unveiled earlier.

The federal government would jump start demand for such vehicles, Biden promised. “The United States government owns and maintains an enormous fleet of vehicles. We’re going to convert those government vehicles into electric vehicles, made in America, sourced right here” in the U.S.

That would be a large conversion: The General Services Administration calculates federal agencies own 640,000 vehicles. One third are Postal Service trucks, vans and delivery cars. For comparison, Walmart operates the largest private vehicle fleet, 67,000.

“With the government providing the demand and support to retool factories…the United States automobile industry will set up expanding the capacity in the United States, not China, to lead the world in clean energy vehicles,” Biden declared.

Biden also promised to enact a 10% tax credit for firms that bring back outsourced jobs to the U.S., and a 10% surtax on companies that ship U.S. jobs overseas, as so many have done with call center work. That wouldn’t be the only penalty Biden would levy against offshorers, he told the Auto Workers.

“No more deductions” to companies “for writing off expenses for the cost of sending jobs overseas, which is a big deal that could be done here at home by qualified American workers. I’m not looking to punish American business, but there’s a better way. Make it in Michigan, make it in America, invest in our communities and the workers in places like Warren,” Biden said with vigor.

The speech in Warren was part of Biden’s push to win back workers and their families in the key Great Lakes states where Trump took half of their votes four years ago. Trump attracted those votes by promising to bring plants back to the U.S. and by trashing the jobs-losing NAFTA “free trade” pact.

The workers also knew Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton supported such “free trade” treaties when her husband, Bill, pushed them through as president, over intense and extensive union opposition. And their votes were among votes that helped him narrowly win Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The electoral votes from those four states sent Trump into the White House.

While Biden didn’t discuss so-called “free trade” pacts, the Democratic platform does. That’s one reason.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, a member of the party platform committee, calls it the most pro-worker platform he’s ever seen. “We need to end the race to the bottom and develop trade policies that support jobs in America, We should review agreements negotiated years ago to update them to reflect these principles,” the platform says.

“Any future trade agreements must make sure our trading partners cannot undercut American workers by taking shortcuts on labor policy or the environment. They must not undermine democratic decision-making through special privileges and private courts for corporations, and trade negotiations must be transparent and inclusive.”

Communications Workers President Chris Shelton, Auto Workers President Rory Gamble and Steel Workers President Tom Conway praised Biden’s remarks.

Trump “secured tax breaks for his billionaire buddies and for corporations that move jobs overseas, and totally deserted working people,” Shelton said. “He’s put a union-busting lawyer in charge of the Labor Department, gutted workers’ rights, and now he wants to make sure companies can’t face any sort of legal consequences for exposing their workers to COVID-19.”

“Trump has absolutely no moral compass, no compassion for people who are struggling, and no interest in actually rolling up his sleeves to solve the problems our nation is facing.”

“For far too long it’s been a fight to maintain the jobs we have while new automotive products and assembly are sent to Mexico, China and abroad,” Gamble added.

“Trade enforcement will help. But so too will Joe Biden once and for all closing the offshoring loophole in our tax code, imposing a new offshoring tax penalty and creating Biden’s new “Made in America” tax incentive. These are strong proposals to keep jobs here and more importantly make sure new products stay here built by our UAW workforce.”

“Trump’s policies have been heavy on talk and massive corporate tax cuts, but light on strategic, long-term action when it comes to truly protecting American jobs. America’s workers and industries can’t count on short-term solutions,” said Steelworkers President Tom Conway.

Machinists President Robert Martinez totally went after Trump. “Between the fumbled response to the coronavirus pandemic, the job loss that rivals the Great Depression and the daily rhetoric that serves only to divide working people, this president has struck out with the Machinists,” he said.

The union provided a long list of IAM-represented plants that have closed, costing U.S. factory workers 9,462 jobs, since Trump took office. The five largest were Goodman in Tennessee (-1,433 jobs), Electrolux in St. Cloud, Minn. (-1,100), Alcoa in Ferndale, Wash. (-621), Harley-Davidson in Kansas City (-620) and Caterpillar in Joliet, Ill. (-600).


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.