Andrias on Labor's Antimonopoly Vision

Kate Andrias, Columbia Law School, has posted Beyond the Labor Exemption: Labor's Antimonopoly Vision and the Fight for Greater Democracy, which is forthcoming in Antimonopoly and American Democracy, edited by Daniel A. Crane and William J. Novak (Oxford University Press):

Although the labor movement and the antimonopoly movement both oppose concentrated economic power and bemoan rising inequality, their projects are frequently viewed as divergent, if not incompatible. After all, courts have long used antitrust law against workers’ collective activity, and antimonopoly advocates have tended to deemphasize problems of class, focusing on breaking up business in ways that do not necessarily provide workers more power. This Essay shows, however, that the industrial unions of the early and mid-twentieth century saw themselves as antimonopoly advocates. They sought not only to free workers’ collective activity from antitrust law’s sanction, but also to advance an affirmative antimonopoly agenda. Yet their agenda was different in important respects from that of prominent antimonopolists, including Louis Brandeis: Labor’s focus was not on making business smaller, but rather on building workers’ countervailing power and increasing democratic control over the workplace and the economy, through a range of strategies including industrial organizing; changes to antitrust, tax, and banking policy; new forms of national economic planning; and public control of key industries. By examining labor’s antimonopoly vision beyond the struggle for a labor exemption, this Essay draws a more complicated picture of the American antimonopoly tradition—one that challenges the dominant narrative about the relationship between labor and antitrust and enriches our understanding of what the Progressive and New Deal-era antimonopoly vision entailed. It also suggests that, to unite the interests of workers, consumers, and citizens, the primary focus of a reform agenda going forward ought not be the size or even the market power of the firms in question, although those are certainly important factors, but rather the degree to which firms’ autonomy and power are democratically constrained either by the public or by the firms’ workers—in short, a program for greater democracy.

--Dan Ernst



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