For the past forty years, corporate consolidation — the trend of fewer companies controlling a greater share of markets — has grown without any significant government intervention to stop it. In fact, both major political parties have supported it. Large corporations now dominate nearly every sector of the economy. They have the power to set prices, lower wages, and crush small businesses that dare compete with them. As a result, income inequality has grown astronomically. The top one percent of household income has increased 229 percent since 1979 compared to 46 percent growth for the bottom ninety percent

The political tools to rein in this corporate consolidation are clear, but previous Democratic and Republican administrations have failed to act aggressively to limit economic concentration, citing the benefit to consumers of low prices while ignoring the harms. Organizers are implementing diverse strategies to reject this prevailing economic orthodoxy, including grassroots worker organizing, local campaigns for municipal regulation, and national electoral campaigns. Ensuring this administration improves upon the abysmal record of its predecessors will require building off this momentum and changing the narrative around consumer harm by centering the stories of those directly impacted by corporate consolidation. 

In October 2020, the House Subcommittee on Antitrust released a report about the impacts of unrestrained growth and consolidation among the largest “Big Tech” companies, including Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon. The report makes clear that federal officials should break up big companies to change their business models and proactively regulate their anti-competitive behavior based on an impact analysis that is not limited to price effects. Though the report focuses exclusively on the technology industry, it creates a potential blueprint for structural changes in other sectors and was seen as a blockbuster development for the anti-monopoly movement. 

The report officially cites investigative journalism as the impetus for the congressional inquiry, but organizing through public campaigns helped translate concerns into action. The “Freedom from Facebook” campaign, a coalition of twelve think tanks and advocacy organizations that formed in 2018, staged protests at congressional hearings on Capitol Hill where tech executives were speaking and placed ads in newspapers and via airplanes to highlight Facebook’s detrimental impact on our democracy. The campaign also filed a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, one of the main federal agencies with jurisdiction over competition policy, demanding investigations of the company. In 2020, the campaign expanded to include Google. These tactics are familiar to most organizers because they work. In spotlighting stories of Big Tech’s harm, Freedom from Facebook and Google reinvigorated Congress’s long-dormant suspicion of corporate monopolies. It’s no accident the final report puts these stories from consumers and small business owners front and center.

Small businesses across the country are also organizing at the grassroots level against the impacts of corporate dominance. This summer, a coalition of restaurants announced a campaign to fight back against food delivery apps, four of which control 95 percent of the market and all of which charge restaurant owners fees as high as thirty percent for delivery. In some cases, the delivery app companies also set up “ghost kitchens” to compete directly with the independent restaurants that they proclaim to be saving. The campaign’s goal was to mobilize local and state governments to implement caps on the delivery fees charged even in smaller cities to mimic the successful organizing efforts in bigger cities like New York and Seattle, as well as to pressure the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the big four delivery app companies’ business practices. Though the FTC has not budged, mid-sized cities across the country have begun to replicate the fee cap policy.

Progressives are also successfully linking corporate power messages to electoral efforts. An increasing number of candidates running for federal office are eschewing corporate PAC money to make clear that they will stand up to corporate interests if elected. The advocacy arm of our organization, Fight Corporate Monopolies, ran a TV ad in Cori Bush’s successful primary race that highlighted how the incumbent had worked to protect the interests of large financial firms that advise customers on retirement accounts. In years past, this type of anti-corruption message might have been deemed too wonky to feature in a political ad in the final weeks of a campaign, but the campaign had primed the electorate with messages about the influence of money in politics, laying a foundation for the ad to break through.  

In Florida, a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15 passed with over sixty percent of the vote. At the forefront of the campaign were workers from the fast food industry vocalizing their frustration with the industry’s persistently low pay. And even though Proposition 22 passed in California, Gig Workers Rising waged a valiant campaign to advocate for the classification of drivers, who are essential to the business models of companies like Uber and Lyft, as employees. They laid the groundwork for future organizing at the state and federal level to prevent companies from writing their own laws to bypass protections for workers.

President-Elect Joe Biden’s administration could implement several pro-competition policies to reverse this trend of consolidation and begin limiting corporate power. With an executive order, Biden could ban mergers until we have controlled the virus and immediately begin a study of the impact mega-mergers are having on workers and small businesses. The President-Elect could also signal that aggressive antitrust investigations and enforcement at the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice are an essential part of his economic recovery plan. Finally, he could instruct the heads of each federal agency to open investigations into the impacts of corporate consolidation in the industries they regulate, laying the groundwork for a policy agenda to do something about it. 

Implementing this agenda is not only good policy but good politics. We will always differ in how we worship and where we live, but the majority of Americans stand to benefit from government’s aggressive tackling of corporate power to broaden economic opportunity. President-Elect Biden, who referenced the importance of unity in his victory speech, would be wise to recognize that unity rooted in shared economic prosperity will move us beyond tokenism to true progress. We would be even wiser not to wait for him. Instead, we must continue building grassroots support for pro-competition policies in every industry at the local, state, and federal level to topple the myopic, consumer price-based analysis of corporate harm that has dominated Washington for forty years and recalibrate power in the direction of people, workers, and small businesses for the next generation.


Click here to read the entire Elections 2020: Strategy Debrief issue.


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