He added: “We don’t want General Motors building plants outside of this country, and we’re very strong on that. The UAW has been very good to me. The members have been very good, from the standpoint of voting. The relationship is good. Hopefully, they’re going to work that out quickly and solidly.”
Read: A Trumpist workers’ party manifesto
Trump is right to draw a distinction between union members and the union itself, though he exaggerates the split. The union’s leaders strongly backed Hillary Clinton, as they have backed every Democratic nominee in recent history. A postelection UAW survey found that at least 28 percent of members voted for Trump, which is actually in line with votes for a previous Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, and behind John McCain, another former nominee.
Overall, however, Trump did better in union households (not quite the same metric) than any Republican since Ronald Reagan in 1984. And he won narrowly in manufacturing-heavy midwestern states, where small shifts made a big difference. One reason for that was his strong stand against trade agreements such as NAFTA, which Hillary Clinton supported, and which her husband, Bill, implemented as president.
As a candidate and as president, Trump has pursued a two-step maneuver: Bash management and rail against offshoring and trade deals, yet at the same time pick fights with the unions themselves. Splitting workers from the unions that represent them, a powerful Democratic bloc, by convincing them that organized labor doesn’t have their best interests at heart has been a long-standing goal of the GOP—and Trump was an especially effective messenger.
Thus, Trump has been willing to assail manufacturers who move plants overseas, often with a bluntness unheard-of in any recent president of either party. As president-elect, Trump rattled business leaders by directly attacking Carrier, the air-conditioner company, over a plan to close an Indiana plant and move production to Mexico. He was able to force Carrier to stop the move. He also demanded that companies stop doing business in China, a move most of them seem to have met with a shrug. Yet he has also publicly attacked union leaders and unions through his Twitter account, and has rolled back labor protections.
The problem is that Trump’s tough talk, as in so many other arenas, hasn’t been matched by much in the way of results. Carrier, wagering correctly that Trump’s attention and political resolve would fade, simply postponed layoffs to a later date. Another example is even more relevant to the GM strike: After the company announced plans in May to close a factory in Lordstown, Ohio, Trump demanded that GM reverse the move.
Then he attacked the local UAW president, inexplicably demanding he “get his act together and produce.” A day later, he tweeted that he had spoken with GM CEO Mary Barra. “She blamed the UAW Union—I don’t care, I just want it open!” he said.