Why hasn't Trump intervened in the UAW strike?
It can be difficult to notice at times amid the unrelenting tedium of having to pretend to take notice or have opinions about what Adam Schiff said in response to what Donald Trump tweeted after Nancy Pelosi said something related to what Rudy Giuliani did in a minor Eurasian republic months ago, but there are actual problems facing millions of Americans. Unemployment, the cost of health care, drug addiction, widespread mental illness, gun violence — you know, stuff members of both of our major political parties very occasionally pretend to be interested in.
Even harder is remembering that once upon a time, Trump was elected president precisely because he talked about all of these things. Jobs disappearing to Mexico and China, factories closing, generations being impoverished and immiserated, epidemic drug abuse and other problems that will not be solved overnight even if the jobs suddenly all come back and wages increase drastically.
The current strike at General Motors by members of the United Auto Workers is, on paper, exactly the sort of thing in which Trump would be likely to get involved. Virtually every single one of the demands being made by the strikers — from better pay to keeping plants open in places like Hamtramck, Michigan, and moving current production of trucks and SUVs from Mexico to the United States — lines up neatly with everything this president has said from the beginning of his campaign in 2015 until the present.
Meanwhile, the strike, which began on September 16, is the longest one the union has fought since the 1980s. It is costing GM and their employees hundreds millions of dollars. Parts shortages are mounting. Michigan will almost certainly dive into a recession unless things are resolved soon. The general consensus in the UAW is that this is very unlikely.
Too bad there is absolutely nothing Trump can do about the situation. Oh wait, he's president. He can insert himself and his administration officially or unofficially any time he likes. He can even create inducements — like the tax break that he essentially wasted in 2017 — that will make it easier for GM to accept the union's terms without seeing their profits threatened. Getting something done on the strikers' behalf — and that of everyone else affected by the stoppage, which is essentially the entire population of states like Michigan and Ohio — would be, not to put too fine a point on it, the single smartest thing he could do in advance of the 2020 election. So where is he? This is exactly what workers in Michigan and Ohio who supported him in 2016 are asking themselves.
How likely is it that Trump will actually get involved? Not very, I think, for a handful of reasons, among them Trump's distraction from any of his domestic responsibilities thanks to the extended Russia-Ukraine meta-scandal. In fact, I would guess that the only thing that might convince him to get involved are public statements like this one from Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who says that "politicizing a strike would be an immense mistake" and begs Trump not to take sides. If someone could convince a Democrat who is actually on the president's radar — or perhaps the host of a popular CNN primetime show — to dare him not to put his foot in, you can bet that Gary Jones, the UAW president, will be getting a phone call.
But even if Trump were willing to attempt a resolution of the current strike on terms favorable to the union, there would still be reasons for pessimism. It has been many years since the UAW was a more or less politically disinterested agent for the wellbeing of its members. Like all large American unions today, it is essentially an adjunct of the Democratic party. That they might allow this president to do something on behalf of their members for which he would have to receive undeniable credit in the year before an election seems to me unlikely — though not as unlikely as the howls of indignation that Trump would hear from inside his own administration and from the congressional GOP, who seem to think that the support of union workers in the Midwest is something that their president is receiving for utterly mysterious reasons that have nothing to do with his rhetoric or his trade policy or anything else he has done while in office.
Maybe those GOP guys are right.
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