The unexpected upside of global monopoly capitalism

We’re all fighting the same enemy.

Cory Doctorow
5 min readApr 10, 2024

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Abraham Bosse’s 17th century etching of David with a defeated Goliath. In the original, David marvels at his sling while standing astride the giant head of Goliath, which has been severed and sports a notable forehead-dent. The image has been modified, replacing the rock in David’s sling with the Earth, and adding a monocle and top-hat to Goliath’s severed head.

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Here’s a silver lining to global monopoly capitalism: it means we’re all fighting the same enemy, who is using the same tactics everywhere. The same coordination tools that allow corporations to extend their tendrils to every corner of the Earth allows regulators and labor organizers to coordinate their resistance.

That’s a lesson Mercedes is learning. In 2023, Germany’s Supply Chain Act went into effect, which bans large corporations with a German presence from using child labor, violating health and safety standards, and (critically) interfering with union organizers:

https://www.bafa.de/EN/Supply_Chain_Act/Overview/overview_node.html

Across the ocean, in the USA, Mercedes has a preference for building its cars in the American South, the so-called “right to work” states where US labor law is routinely flouted and unions are thin on the ground. As The American Prospect’s Harold Meyerson writes, the only non-union Mercedes factories in the world are in the US:

https://prospect.org/labor/2024-04-08-american-workers-german-law-uaw-unions/

But American workers — especially southern workers — are on an organizing tear, unionizing their workplaces at a rate not seen in generations. Their unprecedented success is down to their commitment, solidarity and shrewd tactics — all buoyed by a refreshingly pro-worker NLRB, who have workers’ backs in ways also not seen since the Carter administration:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/09/14/prop-22-never-again/#norms-code-laws-markets

Workers at Mercedes’ factory in Vance, Alabama are trying to join the UAW, and Mercedes is playing dirty, using the tried-and-true union-busting tactics that have held workplace democracy at bay for decades. The UAW has lodged a complaint with the NLRB, naturally:

https://www.commondreams.org/news/alabama-mercedes-benz

But the UAW has also filed a complaint with BAFA, the German regulator in charge of the Supply Chain Act, seeking penalties against Mercedes-Benz Group AG:

https://uaw.org/uaw-files-charges-in-germany-against-mercedes-benz-companys-anti-union-campaign-against-u-s-autoworkers-violates-new-german-law-on-global-supply-chain-practices/

That’s a huge deal, because the German Supply Chain Act goes hard. If Mercedes is convicted of union-busting in Alabama, its German parent-company faces a fine of 2% of its global total revenue, and will no longer be eligible to sell products to the German government. Chomp.

Now, the German Supply Chain Act is new, and this is the first petition filed by a non-German union with BAFA, so it’s not a slam dunk. But supermajorities of Mercedes workers at the Alabama factory have signed UAW cards, and the election is going to happen in May or June. And the UAW — under new leadership, thanks to a revolution that overthrew the corrupt old guard — has its sights set on all the auto-makers in the American south.

As Meyerson writes, the south is America’s onshore offshore, a regulatory haven where corporations pay minimal or no tax and are free to abuse their workers, pollute, and corrupt local governments with a free hand (no wonder American industry is flocking to these states). Meyerson: “The economic impact of unionizing the South, in other words, could almost be placed in the same category as reshoring work that had gone to China.”

The German Supply Chain Act was passed with the help of Germany’s powerful labor unions, in an act of solidarity with workers employed by German companies all over the world. This is that unexpected benefit to globalism: the fact that Mercedes has extrusions into both the American and German political spheres means that both American and German workers can collaborate to bring it to heel.

The same is true for antitrust regulators. The multinational corporations that are in regulators’ crosshairs in the US, the EU, the UK, Australia, Japan, South Korea and beyond use the same playbook in every country. That’s doubly true of Big Tech companies, who literally run the same code — embodying the same illegal practices — on servers in every country.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority has led the pack on convening summits where antitrust enforcers from all over the world gather to compare notes and collaborate on enforcement strategies:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/cma-data-technology-and-analytics-conference-2022-registration-308678625077

And the CMA’s Digital Markets Unit — which boasts the the largest tech staff of any competition regulator in the world — produces detailed market studies that turn out to be roadmaps for other territories’ enforces to follow — like this mobile market study:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/63f61bc0d3bf7f62e8c34a02/Mobile_Ecosystems_Final_Report_amended_2.pdf

Which was extensively referenced in the EU during the planning of the Digital Markets Act, and in the US Congress for similar legislation:

https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/2710

It also helped enforcers in Japan:

https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Technology/Japan-to-crack-down-on-Apple-and-Google-app-store-monopolies

And South Korea:

https://www.reuters.com/technology/skorea-considers-505-mln-fine-against-google-apple-over-app-market-practices-2023-10-06/

Just as Mercedes workers in Germany and the USA share a common enemy, allowing for coordinated action that takes advantage of vulnerable flanks wherever they are found, anti-monopoly enforcers are sharing notes, evidence, and tactics to strike at multinationals that are bigger than most countries — but not when those countries combine.

This is an unexpected upside to global monopolies: when we all share a common enemy, we’ve got endless opportunities for coordinated offenses and devastating pincer maneuvers.

If you’d like an essay-formatted version of this post to read or share, here’s a link to it on pluralistic.net, my surveillance-free, ad-free, tracker-free blog:

https://pluralistic.net/2024/04/10/an-injury-to-one/#is-an-injury-to-all

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