I have a new post up on Dissent asking what an AT&T merger could mean for economic democracy:
If you’re on the left and you buy groceries, chances are at some point you’ve been faced with a choice between a neighborhood corner store and a unionized chain supermarket. That choice exposes a tension between two long-held progressive goals: anti-monopolism and workers’ industrial power.
The progressive puzzle I’m analyzing here reminds me of sociologist Albert Hirschman’s discussion of two ways people deal with inadequate institutions: exit and voice. It plays out in this case as a tension between improving customers’ chances of dumping an unjust company for another one and improving workers’ chances – together with consumers – of transforming their company.
Update (7/3): Alek Felstiner offers some interesting thoughts in response:
1) there was no discussion of the fact that mergers, while potentially creating more union members, also tend to eliminate jobs. And unemployed workers are the ultimate voiceless. This seems to be the history with the various telecom mergers, and progressives – even those who don’t care at all about anti-monopolism – may fault CWA on that ground.
2) CWA’s opposition to true net neutrality is nominally based on a fear that net neutrality will discourage broadband buildout, and thus discourage job creation. That’s totally silly. The only impact net neutrality will have is to prevent telecoms from capturing enormous premiums on preferred content. They’re still going to build out, and people are still going to pay, because they want Google and Amazon just as much as they want cable TV.
3) There’s actually a compound effect (I think) in CWA’s support of mergers and opposition to net neutrality. Because competition and regulation are the two main ways to combat discrimination in internet content. When telecoms want to discourage regulation, they point to the invisible hand of competition that will weed out discriminators. When they want to get a merger approved, they argue that monopolistic dangers will be checked by all the wonderful regulation we currently have. CWA, often an eloquent voice for consumer rights and information access, is dropping the ball on both these issues. The merger support is defensible, if not inevitable. The net neutrality opposition seems like just a favor – or perhaps an informal bargaining concession.