DETROIT, Mich.—In the shadow of the GM world headquarters building, the UAW Ford National Program Center, and Huntington Place Arena; the scene that evening of the kickoff gala of the North American International Auto Show, the UAW’s public relations team pulled off a big rally that drew national and international attention to their cause.
In the late afternoon of Sept. 15, just hours after the strike deadline expired, a downtown plaza overflowed with a crowd of about 2,000 fired-up UAW members from several states and also from the Canadian auto workers union Unifor.
The rally was heavily covered by multiple media outlets that spread the UAW''s contract demands far and wide as the union worked on polishing its public image.
Staying on MessageThis was not a rally to criticize the leadership and policies of the federal government. There were no campaign signs and no mention of the 2024 election.
The name of President Joe Biden was not invoked, nor was so-called “Bidenomics” mentioned by any speaker.
When one UAW member in the crowd was asked by The Epoch Times if they believe President Biden is looking out for the interests of working Americans, he replied, “I don’t want to get into a political discussion. I’m here to show solidarity with the strikers.
“We’re not all out on strike yet. But if one of us is out, we are with him.”
When a man in the crowd who is employed by the union was asked similar questions, he declined to answer and referred The Epoch Times to what he called “a designated public relations spokesperson.”
When asked why nearly every person in the crowd was wearing a red shirt, the union employee said they had been asked to do so by the UAW's leadership.
When asked what the significance of wearing red was, he replied, “It is the color of solidarity,”—an explanation that was confirmed to be accurate by UAW media director Jonah Furman.
Another worker told The Epoch Times that he had received an email from the union “telling me how to talk to the media, if approached. They did not coach me or tell me what to say. They just urged us to be polite.”
Making Up for Lost GroundA woman from Ford’s Louisville, Kentucky, truck plant focused on economic issues in her comments, saying, “We’re here to get back what we lost: get back what the company promised us and never delivered.”
A woman from Local 12 of the Jeep factory in Toledo, Ohio, said she had walked out of her plant at the strike deadline on midnight, Sept. 14, and drove up to the Motor City to rally with her union brothers and sisters “in standing up to corporate greed, to get a fair contract, and to end the abuse of temporary hires.”
Shades of Karl MarxOn the sidewalk to the rear of the crowd sat a woman beside a little-visited table loaded with Socialist Workers Party literature.
Unwilling to give her name, she described herself as a UAW retiree from Detroit.
She extolled the importance of workers, telling The Epoch Times, “We keep this country running. We can run the country through the Socialist Workers Party.
“It is a working people-based party unlike the Republicans or the Democrats. We are done wasting our time trying to reform the Democratic Party from within.”
A man working the table added, “We like Bernie Sanders. He has worked a long time for change in this country.”
A Rollicking Rally
A cheering and constantly chanting crowd had been warming up for the main event with an hour of upbeat music to which many danced and sang along. They were revved up by Democrats Congresswoman Debbie Dingell and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who took turns dancing and leading the singing from the stage.
The two prominent state Democrats stayed away from blatant politicking, as did, for the most part, Michigan’s Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who was also on hand to encourage the strikers.
In her brief remarks, the governor expressed solidarity with the UAW strike and ran through a brief list of her pro-labor accomplishments, such as reinstituting the prevailing wage requirement for government construction projects, repealing Right to Work, and rolling back a very unpopular tax on retirees.
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, a Democrat, urged the strikers to stay “strong” in his short appearance on stage.
Recently elected UAW president Shawn Fain then introduced the featured speaker of the event, the self-described democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Rich Getting RicherThe former Democratic presidential candidate hammered away at his favorite populist theme—income disparity between a handful of overpaid CEOs, elite multibillionaires, and the working people.
Mr. Sanders drew a big ovation when he called the strike a fight for better wages and working conditions, and a fight “against corporate greed.”
He also struck a chord with the audience when he asserted that American workers are “worse off today than 50 years ago.”
“That’s what this strike is all about,” he said.
The union is seeking to make up for the concessions it gave automakers since the Great Recession of 2008. It is asking for the re-establishment of pensions for the recently hired, the elimination of the “tiered” system of compensation, better treatment for temporary workers, a 36 to 40 percent pay increase spread over four years, a 32-hour work week for 40-hours pay, and the restoration of cost-of-living adjustments.
The companies have offered raises about half the size of those demanded.
Representatives of the Big Three all have said they are "disappointed" in the lack of interest that union negotiators have shown in what the CEO's have called "a historic" wage increase offer.