At a rally in downtown Detroit on Friday, just a couple of hundred yards from the headquarters of General Motors, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont addressed a cheering crowd of United Auto Workers members, capping a day of walkouts by the union with an effort to rally support for the strike.Mr. Sanders echoed the populist talking points of his campaigns for president in 2016 and 2020, speaking about income inequality in the United States, and he criticized the chief executives of the Big Three automakers — G.M., Stellantis and Ford Motor — for their compensation.“The fight you are waging here is not just about decent wages and working conditions and pensions in the auto industry,” Mr. Sanders said. “It’s a fight to take on corporate greed and tell the people on top the country belongs to all of us, not just the few.”The rally took place along Detroit’s riverfront, near the city’s iconic Renaissance Center towers, home to G.M. headquarters. Also nearby is the Huntington Place convention center, where auto executives were gathering for a black-tie charity ball to kick off the 2023 Detroit auto show.
Several hundred U.A.W. members, most of them clad in labor’s red shirts and waving picket signs, crowded in front of the rally’s small stage. A dozen television cameras were jammed together on another small, raised platform to record the event. As the crowd awaited the first speakers, a sound system blared upbeat anthems like Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family“ and “We’re Not Going to Take It” by Twisted Sister.Throughout Mr. Sanders’s speech, they erupted into chants of “Bernie, Bernie!”Sanders spoke about the growing gap between C.E.O. and worker pay. The U.A.W. has Said that one of the driving forces behind its demands for higher pay is the growth in compensation for the top leaders at the Big Three automakers.Addressing the Big Three leaders, Sanders said, “Understand, C.E.O.s, the sacrifices your workers have made over the years.”In a comment directed at Mary Barra, G.M.’s chief executive., Mr. Sanders said, “Do you understand what it’s like to live on $17 an hour?” Mr. Sanders went on to make pointed remarks about the growth in compensation for Ms. Barra, as well as Carlos Tavares and Jim Farley, her counterparts at Stellantis and Ford.Mr. Sanders also lamented the gap in pay between newer and more veteran workers at the automakers. “Time is long overdue to end the two-tiered system,” he said.
Among Mr. Sanders’s talking points was the country’s decline in well-paying union jobs. Mr. Sanders has long railed against the forces that have moved many manufacturing and automotive jobs overseas, including globalization and free trade agreements.He closed his speech by saying, “Let us all stand with the U.A.W.”