Pluralistic: Thankful for class consciousness (24 Nov 2023)

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A boardroom scene in which executives are ranged around a table, their focus fixed on a figure standing at the table's end. That figure has been replaced with a family in 1950s-era clothes - a mother, father and daughter. On the wall behind the executives is an analog clock whose 12 position has been replaced by a terrified pig wearing a top hat; the hour-hand sweeping toward the pig has been replaced with a saber. Also on the wall, descending on the scene, is an anarchist black cat, claws extended.

Thankful for class consciousness (permalink)

Before the term "ecology" came along, people didn't know they were on the same side. You care about owls, I care about the ozone layer – what does the destiny of charismatic nocturnal avians have to do with the gaseous composition of the upper atmosphere?

But as James Boyle has written, the term "ecology" welded together a thousand issues into a single movement. When we talk about "looking at our world through a lens," this is what we mean – apply the right analytical lens and a motley assortment of disparate causes becomes a unified, coherent project:

Unfettered, planet-destroying, worker immiserating corporate power is only possible in the absence of such a lens. Before neoliberalism can destroy our lives, it must first convince us that we are all disconnected. "There is no such thing as society," isn't just an empty slogan: it's a weapon for dismantling the democratically accountable structures that can stand against industrial tyrants.

That's why neoliberalism is so viciously opposed to all kinds of solidarity, why corporate apologists insist that the only elections that matter are the ones where you "vote with your wallet." It's no surprise that the side with the thickest wallets wants to replace ballots with dollars!

Today, at long last, after generations of deadly corporate power-grabs, we are living through an ecology moment where all kind of fights are coalescing into one big fight: the fight to save democracy from oligarchy.

There are many tributaries flowing into this mighty river, but two of the largest are antitrust and labor. Antitrust seeks to ensure that our world is regulated by democratically accountable lawmakers who deliberate in public, rather than shareholder-accountable monopolists who deliberate in smoke-filled rooms. Labor seeks to ensure that contests between profit for the few and prosperity for the many are decided in favor of people, not profit.

This coalition is so powerful that the ruling class has never stopped attacking it. Indeed, the history of US antitrust law can be viewed as a succession of ever-more-insistent laws enacted solely to make it clear to deliberately obtuse judges that competition law is aimed at corporations, not unions:

Rising corporate power and declining worker power is bad for all of us. The failure of successive US administrations to block airline mergers led to sky-high prices and a proliferation of "junk fees" that can double the price of a ticket. The monopoly carriers stand to make $118b this year from these fees:

The consolidation of the agricultural sector led to cartels that conspired to rig the prices of our food. These Les Mis LARPers rigged the price of bread!

Remember eggflation? Nearly all the eggs in US grocery stores come from a single company, Cal-Maine, which owns dozens of brands, including "Farmhouse Eggs, Sunups, Sunny Meadow, Egg-Land’s Best and Land O’ Lakes eggs":

With all our eggs in one basket, it was easy for a single company to rig the egg market, blaming everything from bird flu to Russian invasion of Ukraine for doubling egg prices while their profits shot up by 65%:

Antitrust isn't just about monopoly – it's also about oligopoly. The American meat cartel pretends that it's not rigging markets by outsourcing its price-fixing to a "clearinghouse" called Agri Stats:

Agri-Stats gets data from all the Big Meat companies, "anonymizes" it, and publishes it back to its subscribers, who use the service to coordinate across-the-board price-hikes that have cost the public billions in price gouging (meanwhile, Big Meat was able to secure $50b in public subsidies).

For forty years, governments have ceded power to "autocrats of trade" who usurped control "over the production, transportation, and sale of the necessaries of life":

But that era is coming to an end. In the past year, American regulators have blocked airline mergers and promulgated rules banning junk fees. They've dragged price-fixing clearinghouses into court:

They're getting results, too: for the second year in a row, turkey prices are down. Cranberries, too (18%). Same for whipping cream (25%). Pie crusts are down. So are russet potatoes. Airfares are down 13.2%.

The egg cartel just lost a long-running court case over the last egg price-fixing campaign, which gouged Americans from 1990-2008:

The same fact-pattern that was revealed in that court case is repeated in this year's eggflation scandal:

That's terrific ammo for the FTC, and will doubtless benefit the Democrats running against would-be Indiana senator John Rust, whose family owns convicted egg cartel member Rose Acre Farms and whose wife just stepped down as chair of the board.

One underappreciated aspect of the global war on corporate power is that the same corporations commit the same crimes in countries all over the world, which means that whenever any government establishes evidence of those crimes, they are of use to all the other governments. Competition enforcers from the UK, EU, USA, Singapore, South Korea and elsewhere are coordinating to target the Big Tech cartel. Maybe Google and Facebook and Apple are big enough to resist any one of those governments – but all of them?

One notable absence from the anti-monopoly coalition is Canada. While other countries merely stopped enforcing their competition laws in the neoliberal era, Canada never had a good competition law to enforce. Canada's official tolerance for monopolies has allowed a handful of companies to seize control over the economy of Canada and the lives of Canadians:

These monopolies are largely controlled by powerful families, Canada's de facto aristocracy, whose wealth and power make them above the law and subordinate the country's democratic institutions to billionaires' whims:

At long last, Canada has called time on oligarchy. Last week's Fall Economic Statement included an announcement of a muscular new competition law, including new merger guidelines, a new "abuse of dominance" standard, and Right to Repair rules:

The law also includes interoperability mandates for Canada's highly concentrated – and deeply corrupt – banking sector. These measures are strikingly similar to new measures just introduced in the US by the CFPB:

The arrival of Canada's first fit-for-purpose competition rule coincides with all kinds of solidaristic movements in Canada that are fighting corporate power from the bottom up. Even Ontario, led by one of the most corrupt premiers in provincial history, can't break its teachers' union:

It's not just workers who benefit from solidarity: Tenants' unions have formed across the province in response to corporate takeovers of scarce rental stock. These finance-sector landlords have armies of lawyers who've figured out how to bypass rent-control rules and evict tenants who balk. Rather than rolling over, tenants' unions are organizing waves of rent-strikes:

As with Big Tech, the illegal tactics of the rental sector aren't confined to a single nation. In America, Wall Street landlords have dramatically increased the price of housing and kicked off an eviction epidemic the likes of which the country has never seen:

And as with Big Meat, landlords use arm's-length clearing houses to rig rental markets, coordinating across-the-board rent hikes:

In other words: to fix the housing market, tenants all over the world need to learn the tactics of labor unions. Housing regulators have to learn from agricultural regulators. American tenants have to learn from Canadians. These aren't 1,000 different fights – they're one big fight, and the coalition for dismantling corporate power is vast and powerful.

The most powerful weapons our bosses have is convincing us that we are weak and they are strong – so strong that we shouldn't even try to fight them. But solidarity is absurdly powerful, which is why they go to such great lengths to discredit it. In Sweden, the solidarity strikes against Tesla – who refuses to recognize its maintenance workers' union – have spread to nine unions.

Tesla can't get its cars offloaded at the ports. It can't get its showrooms cleaned. No one will deliver its mail. No one will fix its chargers. The strike is spreading to Germany, and workers at its giant Berlin factory are set to walk out:

There's something delicious about how palpably frustrated Elon Musk is by all this, as he realizes that neither his billions nor his bully pulpit are a match for workers in solidarity:

It's a reminder of just how fragile and weak billionaires are, when we stop believing in them and deferring to them. Rebecca Solnit's latest Guardian column adds up the ways that allowing billionaires to run the show puts us all in danger:

They are the unelected "autocrats of trade" who control "the production, transportation, and sale of the necessaries of life." They are the force that this new ecology movement is coalescing to fight: across borders, across sectors, across identities. No matter whether you are a worker, a tenant, a voter, a shopper or a citizen, your enemy is the billionaire class.

Hey look at this (permalink)

A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Bailout costs more than Marshall Plan, Louisiana Purchase, moonshot, S&L bailout, Korean War, New Deal, Iraq war, Vietnam war, and NASA’s lifetime budget — combined!

#10yrsago Man convicted of urinating on hotel carpet while shouting racist abuse, while masturbating with a fire-extinguisher hose up his ass

#10yrsago Miami Gardens police arrest Black man for trespassing 56 times — at the store where he works

#10yrsago Court rules that calling an MP “a coward” isn’t a crime

#10yrsago Rob Ford gets a New Yorker cartoon

#5yrsago While serving, Trump’s comms director will get a $7M Fox News bonus for his mishandling of sexual abuse

#5yrsago On Thanksgiving Eve, Facebook quietly admitted to hiring dirty tricksters to publish an anti-Semitic Soros hoax smearing its critics

Colophon (permalink)

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