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Special Edition Magazine, Spring 2020: Beyond the Techlash

The Digital Gilded Age’s Natural Allies

With major tech companies having disrupted labor markets and amassed overwhelming market power, a growing chorus is calling for both stronger antitrust enforcement and new protections for workers. And while such demands may have been in tension with each other in the past, they now represent two sides of the same reformist coin.

DETROIT – More than at any time in decades, reforms to both antitrust and labor law are being debated in law and policy circles. In the United States, a surge of worker organizing and collective action across a range of sectors – education, media, tech – has coincided with a wave of anti-monopoly initiatives. The emerging left wing of the Democratic Party champions both labor and anti-monopoly politics.

These two tendencies have arisen in response to the same decades-long trends: increasing economic inequality, the disempowerment of ordinary working people, and the unchecked concentration of power in the hands of a few individuals and corporations who are now making decisions on behalf of society as a whole. One key question, then, is to what extent the two reformist tendencies are compatible.

Some would argue that labor politics and anti-monopoly politics are at odds, or that labor law and antitrust law are opposed in principle. These claims are frequently rooted in memories of the mid-twentieth-century era of coordinated, oligopolistic industries with high union density. Antitrust skeptics’ implicit contention is that large firms in concentrated markets are more conducive to robust workers’ organizations.

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