THE BLOG

New Koch, Same as the Old Koch

08/11/2014 12:36 pm ET | Updated Oct 11, 2014
  • Lee A. Saunders President, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO
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Don't be fooled by the recent USA Today column in which Charles Koch, a man who made billions while trampling workers' rights, shares his supposed deep concern for working families, young people and the disadvantaged.

The column is all part of a larger, cynical public relations campaign meant to reform the brothers' now-tarnished image. Thanks in part to progressives and labor unions, the Koch brothers backroom machinations have come to light. Thus, the Kochs have moved into damage control.

But behind Charles Koch's newfound faux-populism are the same dangerous ideas that he and his brother David have peddled in secret for decades.

It began in April with a Wall Street Journal article in which Charles Koch portrayed himself as a freedom fighter and pledged to uphold the values of dignity, respect and equality for all.

Then in June, the Kochs gave $25 million to the United Negro College Fund to set up a Koch scholars program. It's a donation the Washington Post called highly unusual. We in AFSCME found it unacceptable, given the strings attached to the money and the Koch brothers' history of funding efforts that erode voting rights and disproportionately affect minorities.

Later in June, Koch Industries released its first ever national television ad. The ad is filled with sweeping images of Americana -- the heartland, thriving factories and a smiling, diverse workforce. There's even a cowboy on a horse. But, conspicuously, there is not a Koch brother in sight.

Could it be an attempt to separate the brothers -- and their damaged reputation -- from the business, to give us a kinder, gentler Koch Industries (and protect the company's profits)?

Which brings us to this week's USA Today column. Read between the lines and Charles Koch's toxic vision for our country is still evident. Willfully disregarding the pattern of his corporations and others trampling workers' rights to maximize profits, he suggests that workers just need to keep their noses to the grindstone to get ahead.

As for the poor, Koch asserts they're just lazy and that our social safety net is unnecessary. Never mind that budget and census data show that more than 90 percent of those benefits go to seniors, people with disabilities and to households where at least one person is working. Never mind that the Kochs and their ilk have rewritten the rules so that hard work and sacrifice are no longer rewarded with better wages and more opportunities.

He still believes that government regulations get in the way of maximum profits. Never mind that those regulations prevent corporations from polluting our environment and plundering our natural resources. Never mind that the Koch brothers are some of the biggest funders of bunk science denying climate change.

As MSNBC's Alex Wagner points out, the audacity of Charles Koch criticizing "cronyism" when his corporations benefit from $2 billion in corporate welfare each year is stunning.

He then has the audacity to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the dignity of work when the Kochs' anti-union behavior is the antithesis of what Dr. King stood for. Koch conveniently ignores the fact that Dr. King died for the rights of sanitation workers to organize with AFSCME. And let's not forget that Koch and his father, from whom he inherited his wealth, were members of the John Birch Society, an organization that branded King a "communist" in the 1960s.

The Kochs still hate unions because the labor movement is the last line of defense for working families. Without unions, people like David and Charles Koch will continue to use their vast wealth to bend and twist our democracy in favor of a distorted vision in which only a lucky few benefit. Never mind that the labor movement helps level the playing field for everyone. Unions work. Charles Koch would prefer that our members didn't.

The Kochs believe our economy grows from the top, not the middle. That if we keep giving the richest among us more and more, a little will eventually find its way down to the rest of us. They believe that if government and unions and other busybodies just get out of the way, we would all be better off. They are wrong. We shouldn't let a well-financed sham PR campaign convince us otherwise.