'Mass movement' of Democrats needed to beat Trump, ex-UAW leader says

The Detroit News

Livonia — Bob King, the former president of the United Auto Workers union, said Sunday that he sees three groups of voters as crucial to beating President Donald Trump in the 2020, and Bernie Sanders as the candidate to inspire their turnout.

Those groups are people who voted for Barack Obama and then voted for Trump; people who voted in 2016 but abstained from the presidential election, a group he said numbered some 75,000 people in Michigan and 1.3 million nationwide; and those "who have no hope, who don't vote because they don't think it makes a difference."

Only a "mass movement," of the likes that elevated Franklin Roosevelt to the presidency, will work in November, UAW President Bob King said.

Only a "mass movement," of the kind that elevated Franklin Roosevelt to the presidency will work in November, King said at a town hall event Sunday. 

"Bernie cannot do it (alone)," King said. "The only way it happens is you and I stay engaged in movements, we do the demonstrations, we do the strikes, we do the non-violent direct action, because when we organize," King said, his voice trailing off so the audience could contribute its part of the line, "we win!" 

An auditorium at the Livonia Public Library off Five Mile drew more than 100 to the Organize to Win 2020 Summit by Our Revolution, a political action group founded in 2016 Sanders, an independent U.S. senator from Vermont and a candidate for the Democratic presidential election this year.

But the progressive movement wasn't the only group represented at the library Sunday.

Esterina Santini of Roseville held a white sign outside of the library that read "Our 'President' Our Choice," a play on "My body my choice" signs common at more liberal gatherings. She wore a Ted Nugent-signed hat, a birthday gift from the night before, that said "Re-Elect that Mother*******," a play on Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib's quote that she would help "impeach the mother******," referring to Trump, when she got to Washington. 

More:Tlaib defends 'Impeach the MF' T-shirts, says she takes impeachment seriously

"We chose him," said Santini, 55. "We wanted him. We don't like all this impeachment stuff going on." 

Former UAW President Bob King gives remarks supporting Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders during a rally at the Livonia Public Library, January 12, 2020.

Another at the rally outside  had to turn down a Trump-inspired rendition of The Village People's "YMCA" with "MAGA" replacing the original lyrics, due to high noise levels. Police also made him move a large vehicle covered with Trump inspired memorabilia from the front of the library to the parking lot.

But the groups largely avoided one another. People attending the event inside didn't linger to engage in debate with their conservative counterparts; people in the parking lot never attempted to enter the auditorium and shout down speakers. Officers from the Livonia Police Department were present inside and out. 

After the two-hour event, Our Revolution released the results of its survey of 399 members, which took place between Dec. 8 and Jan. 9. The survey found that 74% considered Medicare For All of major importance, 33% supported the Green New Deal, and 17% were for free college for all.

The survey release quotes King saying that "strong unions are an antidote to wealth and income inequality, because they serve as a counterweight to corporate power."

That statement comes at a time when the U.S. Attorney for Eastern Michigan, including Metro Detroit, has spoken publicly about the possibility of a government takeover of the UAW, as the government continues to investigate allegations of corruption and kick-backs in union leadership.

"I think every member of the UAW or anyone who cares about the UAW is concerned and does not want to see a government takeover," King said. "And I think that the union has to take the steps to prevent that. There have been some really important steps taken already and more has to be done."

As for what reforms King might have pursued if he, rather than current president Rory Gamble, were at the helm now, King declined to comment. 

"We've elected through our process of our constitution Rory Gamble, so I'm going to support him in making the changes we should," King said. "But I'm going to advocate through our internal process, not speaking publicly."

More:Investigation claims are 'scurrilous' and 'false,' says UAW President Gamble

That the feds have applied the "racketeering" label on two former UAW presidents could signal the government's interest in pursuing a takeover of one of the nation's largest and most powerful unions, legal experts have said.

More:Feds slap 'racketeering' label on 2 ex-UAW presidents

Late last year, Matthew Schneider, U.S. attorney for eastern Michigan  told The Detroit News that a government takeover of the union was a possibility.

“That shouldn’t be taken off the table,” Schneider said in November. “Now is not the time to go lax on this. We’ve been living through this (investigation) for years. Now isn’t the time to say we’ll have some moderate reforms. No, we need significant reforms.”

The UAW and Gamble have denied all allegations of kickbacks from automakers and vendors, with Gamble on Thursday saying that claims otherwise are "scurrilous" and "false."

More:Driven by greed: Alliance of FCA, union leaders fueled decade of corruption

The Democratic primary is March 10. There is no Republican on the primary ballot against Trump in Michigan, the state GOP has said.