Philadelphia, September 4, 2023 — President Joe Biden, in a Labor Day address to union workers in Philadelphia, emphasized the sharp differences between his administration’s policies and those of former President Donald Trump. The event, held in a union hall, had the energy of a campaign-style rally as President Biden sought to reassure his core supporters within the labor movement.
Addressing the enthusiastic crowd, Biden stated, “We’re turning things around because of you. When the last guy was here, you were shipping jobs to China. Now we’re bringing jobs home from China.” He went on to highlight his administration’s efforts to protect pensions and create a more favorable environment for unions. The president’s message resonated with the audience, prompting chants of “four more years.”
President Biden also took a moment to draw a clear distinction between himself and his predecessor, saying, “When the last guy was here, he looked at the world from Park Avenue. I look at it from Scranton, Pennsylvania.” These references to Trump elicited boos from the crowd.
The choice of Philadelphia as the setting for his remarks underscores the White House’s strategic focus on solidifying President Biden’s connections with rank-and-file labor workers. Pennsylvania, a crucial battleground state in the 2024 election, played a pivotal role in Biden’s narrow victory over Trump in 2020.
While Biden has been actively promoting his economic agenda, dubbed “Bidenomics,” over the summer, his efforts have yet to significantly boost his approval ratings, especially regarding his handling of the economy. Recent job data from August painted a mixed picture, with payrolls exceeding expectations but wage growth slowing and an uptick in the unemployment rate.
Despite his claim to be the most pro-union president in history and garnering support from various labor leaders, President Biden has faced challenges in making his message resonate with blue-collar workers who remain concerned about inflation and signs of a weakening labor market. In his address, Biden reaffirmed his commitment to supporting unions and urged Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), which would facilitate worker organizing efforts.
The timing of President Biden’s speech coincided with contract negotiations between the United Auto Workers (UAW) and major automakers, including General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis. The UAW, representing 150,000 members, has threatened to strike if an agreement is not reached by September 14. Their demands for a substantial pay raise, traditional pensions, and a shorter workweek have created tension with automakers, particularly amidst the transition to electric vehicles (EVs).
This contentious negotiation has highlighted the UAW’s concerns about the future of its members working in EV battery plants, which may not offer the same union protections. While President Biden downplayed the possibility of a strike, the situation has provided an opening for Donald Trump, who has criticized Biden’s push for EVs, claiming it endangers auto manufacturing jobs.
While President Biden enjoys the support of various unions, including the AFL-CIO coalition, the UAW, which endorsed him in 2020, has yet to officially back his bid for reelection. Trump has actively courted the UAW, arguing that the administration’s push for EVs puts auto workers at a disadvantage.
As Labor Day served as the backdrop for this labor-focused speech, it highlighted the ongoing challenges President Biden faces in balancing the demands of unions and addressing the concerns of blue-collar workers, especially in the context of a competitive and pivotal election season ahead.