Union members helped Republican Donald Trump win surprising victories in the industrial Midwest. In Ohio, Trump won a majority of votes from union members, according to exit polling, which also showed added strength for Trump in union households nationally and in other auto-producing states.
The reason, says labor expert Harley Shaiken: “Trump’s message resonated, and Clinton’s did not.”
Shaiken said Clinton may have underestimated “how much damage had been done to communities in the Midwest” as she talked about trade and the loss of manufacturing jobs. He said the UAW’s election efforts, as well as those from other unions, were swamped by the anger of Trump supporters.
“It was far more than any single union could address, and even the labor movement generally,” said Shaiken, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
On social media, a number of UAW members said they supported Trump in the election and chided the union for its earlier support of Hillary Clinton over her Democratic primary opponent, Bernie Sanders.
UAW President Dennis Williams, speaking to reporters Thursday, struck a conciliatory tone, saying the union already has some common ground with President-elect Trump.
“Obviously, we’ll work with him on NAFTA. We agree that NAFTA needs to be renegotiated or ended,” Williams said. “We are prepared to work with him on a jobs bill and an infrastructure bill.”
Williams said trade and job security issues resonated across the electorate.
“I think Hillary Clinton got blamed for NAFTA, and I think Donald Trump had a good message about how NAFTA has disrupted their lives,” the UAW president said. “From what I see and what I hear, I don’t see that he has a fight with organized labor.”
Trump, Williams said, demonstrated during the campaign that he “wasn’t a friend of the Republican party. When I see that, I don’t see the traditional Republican President. I see a person who made a lot of promises to blue collar workers. We’re going to see if what he says is different than what he does.”
Shaiken said the election’s outcome will likely cause the UAW to “redouble” its ongoing organizing efforts under the current labor-friendly administration.
Though he didn’t get a vote, Jerry Dias, president of Unifor -- the union representing tens of thousands of Canadian auto workers -- was more blunt.
“The politics of hate are not part of my beliefs and move us [backward],” Dias wrote. “My resolve to fight for progressive change is renewed.”