Politics

Blue-Collar Voters in Michigan Swing County Turn From Sanders

WARREN, Mich.—Donald Smith voted for Joe Biden in the Michigan Democratic primary, even though his favored candidate for president is Donald Trump. “If it is Biden against Trump, I will probably vote for Trump,” said the retired auto worker from Warren, a suburb of Detroit.

“Bernie is a socialist. I cant back a socialist,” Smith told The Epoch Times. Smiths vote for Biden is more of a vote against Sanders, he said.

After Trump took office, Smith saw hiring signs pop up at smaller factories that supply the “Big Three” auto companies (Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors). Thats something he hadnt seen for years.

“[Trump isnt] a very likeable personality, but he does do what he says hes going to do and hes brought jobs back,” said Smith. “That is the most important thing to me. If you got a job, you can support your family, thats 90 percent of my vote.”

He said he didnt particularly like or trust Trump in the 2016 election, but he voted for him to beat Hillary Clinton.

Donald Smith is one of the approximately 66,000 voters in Macomb County that helped Biden carry Michigan on March 10, compared to about 44,000 for Sanders.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Donald Smith, a retired auto worker, stands in his driveway in Warren, Mich., on March 10, 2020. (Cara Ding/The Epoch Times)

Biden demonstrated his ability to build a broad coalition of voters, including African Americans, women, and union members in the swing state. Biden gained a “new wave of moderate white voters who have aligned themselves with the Democrats as refugees from President Trumps Republican Party,” according to the New York Times.

If Smith is considered one of those “moderate white voters,” he certainly isnt a refugee and will probably rejoin Trumps camp in the fall. Its not clear how many Donald Smiths are in Michigan, but in a state that Trump won in 2016 by the smallest margin of 0.23 percent, every one of them matters.

Macomb County is a swing county within a swing state. Its the third most populous county in Michigan, and many of its residents are white, blue-collar workers connected to the auto industry.

The county favored Bill Clinton and then Barack Obama for both of his terms. But in 2016, its voters turned out in record numbers to support Trump. Trumps victory margin in Michigan was just over 10,000 votes; in Macomb, it was more than 48,000.

Macomb has been touted by the Detroit Free Press as Michigans “political promised land.” Its importance was highlighted by Trumps final campaign appearance there in 2016. At that time, he promised to bring back manufacturing jobs.

Many union workers who spoke to The Epoch Times on primaries day in Macomb said they dont support Sanders even though hes known as the champion of unions.

For some, it was because of a recent economic revitalization that they dont trust Sanders to continue. For some, it was about holding onto their hard-won health care benefits and not losing those under a universal medical care system.

Hiring Signs in Macomb

Macomb County was once a place for the middle class to realize the American Dream, Smith said. Just north of Detroit, Warrens streets are lined with rows of bungalows, the homes of union workers at the Big Three.

“You could always find a job at the Big Three back in the 70s,” said Smith. “You could walk in, apply, and usually start that night or that day.”

Macombs population increased by 200,000 between the 60s and 70s, and around 60,000 homes were built during that time. The countys median household income in 1985 was $24,000, nearly $7,000 above the national median.

“The whole area changed because of NAFTA,” Smith said, “All the manufacturing jobs went down to Mexico.”

Smith worked at a GM factory and, although he kept his job, many of his colleagues were told to pack up and move to other factories in cities like St. Louis or Cleveland. “If you didnt do that, you lost your job … it was hard,” Smith said.

He remembers those who got laid off would stand in line for eight or nine hours at an unemployment office trying to get a check.

As automakers closed, small firms that relied on them soon felt the pain.

Rick Ryan, was a union worker with the City of Warren for about 30 years. He worked with small factories in the area and witnessed their closing over the years.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Rick Ryan, a longtime city union worker, stands on his porch in Warren, Mich., on March 10, 2020. (Cara Ding/The Epoch Times)

“All the little shops … those shops closed up because the jobs went somewhere else,” he told The Epoch Times.

In the first seven years after NAFTA was passed, 43,600 jobs were lost or displaced in Michigan. Up to the first quarter of 2018, Michigan has lost nearly 20 percent of its manufacturing jobs.

Chinas entrance into the World Trade Organization (WTO) also played a role in the job loss at auto companies.

But a different scene began to emerge slowly after Trump came to office. Small factories that supply to the Big Three began to reopen and hire workers.

“If you drive down 12 Mile Road,” Smith said, “youll see a bunch of shops along the side with signs [saying] help wanted, grinder hand, CNC [Computer Numerical Control] helper, Lathe helper—all kinds of jobs. And they werent there before Trump got into office.”

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
A help-wanted sign in Warren, Mich., on March 10, 2020. (Cara Ding/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
A help-wanted sign in Warren, Mich., on March 10, 2020. (Cara Ding/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
A “now hiring” sign and a board listing the job openings in front of True Industrials in Warren, Mich., on March 10, 2020. (Cara Ding/The Epoch Times)

Macomb is now the top county in the nation for new manufacturing jobs. Over 9,000 manufacturing jobs were added between the fourth quarter of 2016 and the second quarter of 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics.

While some voters with whom The Epoch Times spoke felt the economic improvements were due to an already improving economy from the Obama Administration, Smith and Ryan think its Trumps trade policies.

“They had to stop making it more viable to send things out to get done with cheaper labor,” Ryan said. The tariffs Trump imposed on China have helped, he said. “Thats where the tariffs are coming in. It hurts a little bit, but thats what its going to take.”

Shaun Gajewski, a tile setter by trade, voted for Biden. He told The Epoch Times he doesnt support Sanders because, “You have to be both pro-business and pro-worker, because without the business, theres no work.” He thinks Sanderss desire to target the wealthy with taxes will stop businesses from hiring.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Shaun Gajewski, a tile setter by trade, stands on his porch in Warren, Mich., on March 10, 2020. (Cara Ding/The Epoch Times)

Gajewski didnt vote in 2016. He didnt like Trump, and he didnt like Clinton. But he felt this year, it was critical to make a choice. When he saw the 2016 presidential election results for Michigan and saw only about 10,000 votes made the difference, he realized his voice matters.

“If youre thinking about 10,000 people, thats not a lot of people,” he said. He said if Biden doesnt make it, he will vote for Sanders.

He thinks unions are important to ensure good wages. Ryan, who was a union steward for ten years and also a true union man, isnt so keen on unions anymore.

A Union Democrat No Longer

Over the years, Ryan saw a change in the union. In the early days, “everybody appreciated what they had and what we were getting,” he said. “And over the years, it just seemed like everybody took it for granted.”

“Its like everybody wanted the union to do something for him everyday,” he said. He tried to convince workers they had it pretty good, but they always wanted more.

Ryan also decided to stop following the unions political line without looking into it himself.

“The union is always for the Democrats. I figured they keep up on this stuff better than me, so whatever they say to vote, Ill vote,” he said. “I dont do that anymore.”

A look at history informed him, he said. “A lot of labor laws were passed when Democrats were in power. FDR, he did a lot of good for the people and he was a Democrat. But Teddy Roosevelt did a lot of good too, and he was a Republican.”

His first Republican vote was against Clinton in 1996, after the NAFTA trade agreement was passed. He knew “it was a bad deal for everybody.” His most recent Republican vote was for Trump in 2016, and he plans to vote for him again in 2020.

“I think hes the first real president weve had since Kennedy. Everybody else has been a frontman for their party,” Ryan said. “This guy, he has thoughts and opinions and he expresses them. He does not wait to clear with the party to see what they think.”

“I think all thats long overdue.”

An Argument Against Medicare for All

Chris McEachran has worked for a union for about 30 years as a field supervisor for the City of Warren. Hes not registered to vote yet, and he didnt vote in the primary. Hes non-partisan in general, he said, but leans more toward the conservative side.

He thinks hell probably vote for Trump in the fall. A key issue for him health care. He Read More – Source

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