Opinion

What Republicans Say (and Don’t Say) About the Auto Workers’ Strike

It has been interesting to watch the response of Republicans to the United Auto Workers strike against the Big Three American car manufacturers: General Motors, Ford and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler).

The most openly anti-worker view comes from Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who condemned the striking workers as insolent and ungrateful in a stunning display of conservative anti-labor sentiment. “I think Ronald Reagan gave us a great example when federal employees decided they were going to strike,” Scott said at a campaign event in Iowa. “He said, ‘You strike, you’re fired.’ Simple concept to me, to the extent that we can use that once again.” Scott also criticized the union’s demands. “The other things that are really important in that deal is that they want more money working fewer hours. They want more benefits working fewer days.” In America, he continued, “that doesn’t make sense.”

Most other Republicans have sidestepped any discussion of the workers themselves in favor of an attack on electric vehicles and the Biden administration’s clean energy policies. “I guarantee you that one of the things that’s driving that strike is that Bidenomics, and their green energy, electric vehicle agenda is good for Beijing and bad for Detroit, and American autoworkers know it,” former Vice President Mike Pence said during a recent interview on CNBC.

Donald Trump took a similar swing at the same target. “The all Electric Car is a disaster for both the United Auto Workers and the American Consumer,” Trump wrote last week. “They will all be built in China and, they are too expensive, don’t go far enough, take too long to charge, and pose various dangers under certain atmospheric conditions. If this happens, the United Auto Workers will be wiped out, along with all other auto workers in the United States. The all Electric Car policy is about as dumb as Open Borders and No Voter I.D. IT IS A COMPLETE AND TOTAL DISASTER!”

That much was expected. But beyond the presidential contenders, there were also the ostensibly populist Republicans who have placed workers at the center of their case.

“Autoworkers deserve a raise — and they deserve to have their jobs protected from Joe Biden’s stupid climate mandates that are destroying the U.S. auto industry and making China rich,” Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri said. Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio wrote that he was “rooting for the autoworkers across our country demanding higher wages and an end to political leadership’s green war on their industry.” Likewise, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida pinned the strike on “a radical climate agenda that seeks the end of gas-powered cars even if it means destroying American jobs,” adding: “Instead of supporting either union bosses or C.E.O.s we need to support American workers who want policies that protect their jobs.”

You’ll notice that for all the talk about workers, not one of these more populist Republicans has actually said their demands should be met. They haven’t affirmed the right of labor to strike. They haven’t even blamed management for the strike, despite the fact that the U.A.W. is taking aim at rising corporate profits, which it believes could support higher wages, cost-of-living protections and stronger benefits — and the two-tier system that pays new workers less than veteran workers for the same work.

And they haven’t voiced support for the largest, most ambitious organizing goal of the U.A.W. — the unionization of new electric vehicle and battery factories, either as part of a new contract or pursued through new organizing. If anything, Republican attacks on electric vehicles work to obscure the nature of the conflict, which is less about a new product category than about the balance of power between labor and management in the American auto industry.

As (my former editor and colleague) Harold Meyerson notes in a piece for The American Prospect:

“In short,” he concludes, “the union won’t long be able to realize the kind of gains its members need unless it can level up the standards at Tesla et al., lest it be compelled to face a long-term leveling down to Elon Musk’s idea of what a proper division of revenue should be.”

Or as the U.A.W.’s first-ever directly member-elected president, Shawn Fain, wrote last week in a Guardian opinion essay co-authored with Representative Ro Khanna of California:

The extent to which Republicans are indifferent to these questions of power is key, because it puts the lie to the idea that the party has become pro-worker in any sense other than a few words and the occasional nod to blue-collar cultural identity. Josh Hawley, for example, opposed a 2018 effort to repeal Missouri’s anti-union “right to work” law. Marco Rubio, according to the AFL-CIO’s scorecard of members of Congress, is among the most anti-labor Republicans in the Senate. J.D. Vance railed against “union bosses” in his 2022 campaign, and Donald Trump (along with Mike Pence) ran one of the most anti-union presidential administrations in recent memory.

In other words, Republican support for workers remains little more than rhetoric, signifying nothing. They have no apparent problem with management granting workers a modest increase in wages, but remain hostile to workers who seek to organize themselves as a countervailing force to corporate and financial power.


What I Wrote

My Tuesday column was on the basic analytical problem with the constant calls for Joe Biden to step away from the 2024 Democratic nomination.

My Friday column, building somewhat on the Tuesday one, was on Donald Trump, abortion and the political burdens of presidential leadership.

And in the most recent episode of my podcast with John Ganz, we discussed the film “The American President” with Linda Holmes of NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour.”


Now Reading

Samuel Clowes Huneke on “wokeness” for The Los Angeles Review of Books.

Michael Szalay on the politics of prestige television for Public Books.

Dinah Birch on anonymous letters for The London Review of Books.

Lola Seaton on “political capitalism” for The New Left Review.

Amy C. Offner on neoliberalism for Dissent.


Photo of the Week

A photo from the archive! This is the Art Deco Model Tobacco building in Richmond, Va., built around 1940. I took this photo in 2018 with a camera I have long since sold. The building itself has been converted into apartments.


Now Eating: Greek-Style White Beans

This is a very simple recipe for Greek-style white beans from The Rancho Gordo Vegetarian Kitchen series, Volume 1. The book calls for lima beans, but any large white bean will do. You’ll want to use dried beans. Other than that, however, the recipe is yours to play with. I cook anchovies along with the vegetables and tomatoes for some additional umami, and I tend to let the beans cook in the oven for longer than 30 minutes — I like them a little on the drier side. I also go a little easy on the olive oil.

Be sure to garnish with additional feta and a lot of herbs — dill, parsley and mint all work well here. You would also do well to buy, or make, some pita bread to have on the side.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup olive oil (divided use)

  • 1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped

  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped

  • ½ onion, finely chopped

  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste

  • ½ pound large white beans, cooked and drained

  • 1 large, ripe tomato, chopped

  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh dill

  • salt and freshly ground pepper

  • feta cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large skillet, warm 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the carrot, celery, and onion; sauté until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste.

In a large baking dish, combine the sautéed vegetables, beans, tomato and remaining olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and dill. Add feta, if desired.

Bake until the beans are soft and creamy, about 30 minutes.

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