If you’ve been following the Wisconsin fracas over these past few weeks, you’ve probably noticed that the Left’s enemy du jour has become the American businessmen Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries. As an American company, Koch Industries employs over 50,000 Americans. In total, the number of American jobs that indirectly supported Koch Industries is over 200,000. In Wisconsin, Koch Industries provides nearly 3,000 jobs directly and 11,000 jobs indirectly. More importantly, many of those jobs are good-paying union jobs. So, why all the hate?
The Koch brothers have recently come under fire from the institutional Left due, primarily, to a more than 40-year commitment to economic freedom. In part, the Koch brothers’ advocacy for freedom may stem from their father, Fred C. Koch, who developed a hatred of Communism when he saw the effects of it first-hand, working in Russia during the 1930s.
“Virtually every engineer he worked with [there] was purged,” Charles Koch once explained of his father.
Given the desire of many on the Left, many of whom were protesting in Madison these last few weeks, to ‘fundamentally transform‘ America’s economy, the Koch brothers’ opposition to a nation bankrupting itself (as well as their support of Scott Walkers’ efforts to rein in union power in Wisconsin) represents a direct threat to the Left’s agenda. As a result, some of the more extremist groups on the Left are pushing a boycott of Koch Industries and its companies’ products.
Due to the sheer number of jobs that directly or indirectly benefit from Koch Industries, the Left’s undertaking to topple the Koch brothers and their companies may have the negative consequence of actually hurting those the Left purports to want to help—namely union workers. This has a top official with the United Steelworkers concerned.
On Wednesday, Jon Geenen, an International Vice President with the United Steelworkers wrote a long post on the union’s blog entitled A Well Intentioned Bad Idea. While Geenen’s post was not a defense of the Koch brothers’ politics, it was a defense of Koch Industries, both as an employer and, more importantly, a unionized employer:
The groups that generally operate in the middle and to the left of the center of the political spectrum who identify themselves as moderate, progressives, trade unionists and other like-minded people are outraged by this dirty little secret. It has led to a progressive uprising in some areas, with protests that are said to eclipse the anti-war protests of the 1960s. These groups have also launched various efforts to pressure the financiers and architects of this agenda into rethinking their positions.
Therein lies at least one problem.
A number of organizations are advocating a boycott of the products that come from companies owned by the Koch family. This is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it could potentially hurt the wrong people.
The Koch brothers own Georgia Pacific. It is an American consumer goods company that makes everyday products like facial tissue, napkins, paper towels, paper cups and the like. Their plants are great examples of American advanced manufacturing.
Incidentally, GP makes most of its products here in America.The company’s workforce is highly unionized. In fact, 80 percent of its mills are under contract with one or more labor union. It is not inaccurate to say that these are among the best-paid manufacturing jobs in America.
This presents a dilemma and a paradox. While the Koch brothers are credited with advocating an agenda and groups that are clearly hostile to labor and labor’s agenda, the brothers’ company in practice and in general has positive and productive collective bargaining relationships with its unions.
While some companies are running from investment in American jobs, The Koch brothers’ Georgia Pacific just reached agreements with its primary union in the paper industry to invest more than a half a billion dollars in capital to essentially create two state-of-the-art machines that conserve fiber and energy at two separate union mills.
Geenen also goes on to explain why a boycott of Koch Industries is, at best, misguided.
So the problem for the advocates of a boycott against Koch is that it can only marginally hurt Koch, and the workers who are the epitome of what advanced manufacturing jobs in the United States ought to look like, would be the first casualties of a boycott. Of course, this will eventually drive a wedge between groups that are otherwise in political alignment.
If consumers pick alternate products (because people will still use toilet paper), in many cases, the substitute will be from a company with a track record that is much less friendly to the values of the workers who would, as a result of the boycott, become the collateral damage. The Koch brothers’ lifestyle will not dramatically change; there are no shareholders that will become concerned; the company is privately owned. The stock won’t plummet either — there is none. [Emphasis added throughout.]
Whether or not Geenen’s common sense rationale will sink into the heads of the radical Left engaging in the war against the Koch brothers remains to be seen. However, it is refreshing to note that, in a sea of so much lunacy on the Left, there seems to be some integrity and sound judgement in Geenen’s post.