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GE Unleashes Propaganda Campaign To Hide Its Tiny Tax Burden and Mass Layoffs

GE paid an average of 2.3% in taxes over the last ten years, while slashing its US workforce by 32,000 jobs. But its new ad campaign aims to whitewash all that.

Photo Credit: AFP


The following article first appeared at Working In These Times, the labor blog of In These Times magazine. For more news and analysis like this, sign up to receive  In These Times weekly updates.

 “The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.

—Alex Carey, author of  Taking the Risk Out of Democracy.


No corporation has surpassed General Electic's mastery of profit-maximization, or its use of public-relations ("corporate propaganda") to mask its true aims behind the widely-supported goals of expanding scientific horizons, "bringing good things to life" and rebuilding America's industrial base.

But sometimes the profit-maximization skills of GE's top executives and tax lawyers surpass the ability of its PR staff to put an appealing gloss on the company's conduct. For example, the disclosure that GE  racked up $14.2 billion in profits in 2010 while paying no federal income taxes was not well-received by the American public. GE not only avoided paying any taxes, but even managed to collect $3.2 billion in federal tax credits. This occurred against a backdrop of GE continuing to slash its U.S. workforce by 32,000 jobs, from 165,000 to 133,000 over the 2004-2010 period.

For millions of American facing a shrinking supply of middle-class jobs, falling wages, and disappearing benefits, revelations about GE have fed a  renewed hostility to "free enterprise" and undoubtedly helped fuel the "Occupy" movement, now experiencing a spring resurgence.

"In my 25 years of dealing with GE, I have never seem them that embarrassed by any other issue, and so knocked off stride," said Chris Townsend, political director of the United Radio, Electrical and Machine workers (UE) union and a veteran of negotiations with GE over the past 25 years. "GE had so agitated even the mainstream media that the media sought us out," a rare occasion in the unionist's experience.


But major corporations like GE do not remain passive targets for public outrage. Instead, they plan carefully and mobilize vast resources to re-brand themselves in the public eye. With numerous stories about corporate taxes certain to appear around April 15, GE is eager to divert attention away from its paltry tax burden and focus the spotlight on its supposed mission of providing U.S. jobs by turning out products needed by Americans.

Kicking off with the Super Bowl, GE has been filling the airwaves with ads aimed not at selling GE products to consumers, but at reassuring U.S. citizens that GE's driving mission is to meet human needs, provide deeply-satisfying work to its employees, and revitalize America's manufacturing base. The ads don't mention that the corporation  paid an average of just 2.3% in tax on its income over the last 10 years, according to Citizens for Tax Justice.

 "We're seeing signs that GE has started to develop and spread a pro-active message," said Townsend. "It looks like they're trying to build a new image. I think it's aimed at serving as a dump-truck to dump the tax issue."

On its website, GE  says it has created 13,000 jobs in the United States since 2009. But it is unlikely that the figure represents a net gain, since it has closed 18 plants and made significant job cuts during the same period, as I reported  here.

The GE ads skillfully trigger a sense of warmth as they show GE workers expressing pride in their skilled work, satisfaction in assisting severely-ill patients, a profound sense of teamwork crossing racial and gender lines, and a deeply-felt mission based on the slogan: "GE Works." To highlight just a few elements of GE's public-relations offensive:

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