Antitrust Laws and Collective Action


Published January 7th, 2019 - 01.07.1932


Charlotte Garden’s insightful essay at Take Care about how antitrust laws are being used as a bludgeon against union collective action immediately brings to my mind Andrew Strom’s OnLabor post about the so-called “Powell Memo.” My hope is that considering these two posts together will fortify what both OnLabor contributors have to say.

To refresh, when Lewis Powell was at the height of his influence as a private practitioner in 1971, he wrote a memorandum for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that is now widely regarded as the blueprint for building a collective voice for the American business community. Witness Powell’s words about collective or unified action:

“But independent and uncoordinated activity by individual corporations, as important as this is, will not be sufficient. Strength lies in organization. . . and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.”

Fast forward nearly fifty years from the Powell memorandum: We can now better appreciate (recalling Lewis Powell’s own words) what Charlotte Garden wrote about—the collective might of the business community wielding, of all things, the antitrust laws to sap the “strength [that] lies in organization” and hamstring the “united action” of working people.

And so, it is ironic in the extreme, if not downright hypocritical, for the premier exponent and beneficiary of collective action—the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—to attempt (whether by the antitrust laws or otherwise) to deny to individuals who work for its members the benefits of a collective voice and unified action.

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