US President Joe Biden addressed striking auto workers through a bullhorn

Belleville (United States) (AFP) - Joe Biden became the first sitting US president to stand on a picket line Tuesday, joining striking auto workers in Michigan in a bold pitch for blue collar votes against likely election rival Donald Trump.

Wearing a United Auto Workers (UAW) union baseball cap, the Democrat told red-shirted employees through a bullhorn that they deserved “a hell of a lot more than what you’re getting paid now.”

Biden’s short but symbolic trip came a day before Republican former president Trump visits Michigan, the historic heart of the US car industry and a key battleground for the 2024 election campaign.

“They’re doing incredibly well and guess what, you should be doing incredibly well too,” Biden said to cheers as he told automakers Ford, General Motors and Stellantis to “step up.”

US President Joe Biden joins a picket line with members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union at a General Motors plant in Michigan

Flanked by workers holding union placards outside a GM plant near Detroit, Biden told them to “stick with it,” adding: “You deserve the significant raise you need.”

Biden, surrounded by Secret Service agents, then shook hands with union workers and joined employees saying “yes” when asked if they should get a 40 percent increase.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters the “historic” visit was the “first time a sitting president has visited a picket line in modern times.”

- ‘Historic moment’ -

The autoworkers strike that began on September 15 has increasingly become a political football for Biden and Trump as they head for a probable presidential rematch in November 2024.

United Auto Workers (UAW) President Shawn Fain stood with President Biden

Biden’s trip was designed to trumpet his pro-union credentials amid growing concerns among Democrats about his poll ratings, his age and his struggles to get his economic message across.

The UAW’s outspoken chief Shawn Fain, who invited Biden to Detroit, greeted the president on the tarmac and accompanied him to the picket line.

“This is a historic moment,” said Fain, whose union endorsed Biden in 2020. “Our president chose to stand up with workers in our fight for economic and social justice.”

Auto worker Patrick Smaller, 56, said Biden’s visit was “huge” as he stood on the picket line outside a massive Ford plant in Wayne County earlier on Tuesday.

As cars and trucks honked in support, another worker, Tiara Conner, said Biden’s visit was “great.”

She said she was “not surprised” that Trump was visiting too, adding: “I just hope that he (Trump) is also here for the right reasons.”

- ‘Ashamed’ -

Trump meanwhile is hoping to woo back working-class voters, who helped propel him to the White House in 2016 with his promise to restore American industry, but then largely flipped to Biden four years later.

Former US President Donald Trump will visit Michigan on Wednesday

But the former property tycoon’s own links with the unions are more difficult, and his visit to a car parts plant on the other side of Detroit on Wednesday will not feature unionized workers.

Instead, Trump has focused on attacking what he called Biden’s “draconian” push to fund a shift to more environmentally friendly electric vehicles, saying it is driving jobs to China.

“Crooked Joe should be ashamed to show his face before these hardworking Americans he is stabbing in the back,” Trump said in a statement Tuesday, using his usual epithet for the president.

Trump, who is skipping a Republican candidates’ debate on Wednesday to focus on Michigan instead, also accused Biden of copying his plans to visit the state.

Biden’s administration says his push on electric vehicles is part of a plan to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States and put the country in the lead of a global race to develop green technology.