President Biden fetched up in Belleville, Michigan this week to walk a picket line with the president of the United Auto Workers, Shawn Fain.
The UAW has been a corrupt union, a point that Biden's own Justice Department made as recently as July 22, in a press release announcing the sentencing of a UAW official, Timothy Edmunds, to 57 months in prison for embezzling $2.1 million in union funds. From the release: "Edmunds is the seventeenth defendant convicted in connection with the ongoing criminal investigation into corruption within the UAW or relating to illegal payoffs to UAW officials by FCA executives. The following other individuals have already pleaded guilty to their participation in the scheme and have been sentenced: former UAW President Gary Jones (28 months in prison); former FCA Vice President for Employee Relations Alphons Iacobelli (66 months in prison), former FCA Financial Analyst Jerome Durden (15 months in prison), former Director of FCA's Employee Relations Department Michael Brown (12 months in prison), former senior UAW officials Virdell King (60 days in prison), Keith Mickens (12 months in prison), Nancy A. Johnson (12 months in prison), Monica Morgan, the widow of UAW Vice President General Holiefield (18 months in prison), former UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell (15 months in prison), former senior UAW official Michael Grimes (28 moths), former UAW Midwest CAP President Edward "Nick" Robinson (12 months in prison), former UAW Vice President Joseph Ashton (30 months), former UAW President Dennis Williams (21 months) and former UAW Region 5 Director UAW Board member Vance Pearson (12 months in prison). The company, FCA US LLC, now known as Stellantis, pleaded guilty in January 2021 to conspiring to violate the Taft-Hartley Act, and was ordered to pay a fine of $30 million and be subject to an outside Monitor for three years. Former senior UAW official Jeffrey Pietrzyk passed away before being sentenced."
At the appearance with Biden, Fain noted that the Willow Run factory had helped produce B-24 bombers that helped win World War II, and said, "Today, the enemy isn't some foreign country miles away. It's right here in our own — in our own area. It's corporate greed."
What a shortsighted view. The Cold War was won in part because of farsighted labor leaders such as Lane Kirkland, Albert Shanker, Tom Donahue, Irving Brown, Jay Lovestone, and Tom Kahn, who understood that there were indeed foreign enemies, and that if labor unions outside the United States were government-controlled, Communist Party-controlled, or illegal, then American workers, too, would be insecure. Today the big threat to American auto workers is not corporate greed. It's competition from electric car makers such as BYD, Dongfeng, Polestar, Lynk, Dacia, Smart, Geely, Brilliance, Xpeng, Leapmotor, MG, SAIC, NETA, Great Wall, Chang'an, and Tesla, which have vast operations in Communist China, where unions are controlled by the government and there is no legally protected right to strike.
The most recent State Department human rights report on China says, "The law does not provide for freedom of association, and workers are not free to organize or join unions of their own choosing. The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is the only union recognized under the law. Independent unions are illegal, and the law does not protect the right to strike." The report went on to explain that "all union activity must be approved by and organized under the ACFTU," a Chinese Communist Party "organ chaired by a member of the Politburo." The report goes on to say that "in cases where local authorities cracked down on strikes, they sometimes charged leaders with vague criminal offenses, such as 'inciting subversion of state power,' 'picking quarrels and provoking trouble,' 'gathering a crowd to disturb public order,' or 'damaging production operations,' or detained them without charges."
A September 2023 analysis from the Center for Strategic and International Studies on "China's Electric Vehicle Export Boom" reports that China is now exporting more passenger vehicles than either the US or South Korea. In dollar terms, the majority of the trade is electric vehicles; in 2022 China exported $22 billion worth of electric vehicles, and it's on track to do $36 billion in 2023. The Nikkei wire reports that "Chinese manufacturers are targeting Europe as an export destination. China's Dongfeng Motor Group is increasing exports of its Voyah EV brand. In February, it began exporting a EV sport utility vehicle, the Free, to Israel." Someone should sue the maker of the "Free" for false advertising, as the people who make the vehicle are not free to form independent labor unions. Maybe they should rename the car the Orwell.
Unless and until an American president and American labor leaders understand the nature of the foreign enemy and defeat it the way Kirkland and Lech Walesa did at Gdansk with Solidarity, the UAW picket lines in Michigan will be a sideshow at best. The UAW says it has more than 80,000 employees in higher education, "as faculty, postdoctoral researchers, graduate student employees and clerical, technical and support staff." It has about 146,000 active autoworkers. The union might be able to eke out some more time as an advocacy group representing those serving the Chinese foreign students whose tuition money is now helping to keep American higher education afloat. But until Biden and Fain start organizing and picketing the factories in Communist China, the American auto industry will be at risk—not from corporate greed, but from a foreign enemy.