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Trump urges UAW to endorse him in speech at non-union car parts maker

Donald Trump tried to woo US autoworkers in a rambling speech in Michigan on Wednesday night that took potshots at Joe Biden, electric vehicles and Barack Obama while pushing culture war issues and fell far short of supporting the core issues that have many car workers currently on strike.

The speech came a day after Joe Biden spoke to striking United Auto Workers members on a picket line nearby. Biden’s historic appearance was the first time that a sitting president has walked a picket line.

Trump dismissed that as a “photo op” at Drake Enterprises, a non-unionised car parts maker in Macomb county, a few miles from where Biden spoke to striking employees picketing a Ford facility.

The former US president and other prominent Republicans have consistently attacked unions but many are now being more supportive of the UAW strike. Trump is the overwhelming frontrunner in the Republican 2024 nomination race and Michigan and other rust belt states are seen as crucial battlegrounds in the race for the White House.

“Your leadership should endorse me and I will not say a bad thing about them again,” said Trump, though he did not substantively address the issues at stake in the strike beyond expressing support for getting better wages.

At one stage Trump said that the UAW leader, Shawn Fain, should endorse him and called him “a good man … he’s got to endorse Trump”. In the run-up to the visit Fain, however, has been withering in his opinion of Trump and declined to meet him.

“I see no point in meeting with him because I don’t think the man has any bit of care about what our workers stand for, what the working class stands for,” Fain said before Trump’s visit. “He serves a billionaire class, and that’s what’s wrong with this country.” Biden had attended the UAW picket at Fain’s invitation.

Several hundred people attended the speech, which was timed to coincide with the latest Republican presidential debate.

“When you look at the thousands of people outside, why couldn’t you get a bigger plant?” said Trump.

The crowd appeared to be in the hundreds and while the speech took place, it thinned to less than a hundred as the rain came down. At one moment Trump – who has a long history of exaggerating crowd sizes at his events – falsely claimed that there were “ten thousand” people outside the venue.

“Just get your union guys, your leaders, to endorse me and I will take care of the rest,” said Trump. “Under a Trump presidency, gasoline engines will be allowed and sex changes for children will be banned. Is that OK?”

Trump consistently attacked electric vehicles (EVs) and said US autoworkers would lose their jobs if the country made the shift to EVs. He pledged to support gas-powered cars. “We will drill baby drill and it will have zero environmental difference,” he said.

Michigan is a crucial battleground for the 2024 election. Hillary Clinton lost the state to Trump in 2016 but Biden took it back from Trump in 2020. It looks set to be a hard-fought race next year.

Ahead of the speech, the crowd shouted “Freedom” and “Fuck Joe Biden.”

Autoworker Christopher Demopolis, 35, said: “I don’t see why he won’t win Michigan next time around – a lot of this is going to determine it,” he said, motioning to the lively crowd. “Trump supports the workers, Biden supports the leaders.”

Debbie Swolfs, a retired caterer who also owned a cleaning business, ran through a litany of complaints of life under Biden: inflation, gas prices, illegal immigrants, the move to electric vehicles.

“We need Trump back!” she said. “Do you remember how wonderful things were three years ago? I want that back,” she said. “Biden is compromised by China and he doesn’t need to be impeached – he needs to be put in handcuffs.”

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