Recently filed in Silicon Valley, a class-action lawsuit alleges price-fixing by Google, Apple, Intel and other big tech companies that preach phony “free-market” economic philosophy. This lawsuit charges these companies with mutual agreements not to hire their competitors’ engineers. Such agreements constitute blatant price-fixing, not for products or services, but for labor. Price fixing of any sort obviously violates the basic principle of free-market economics.
As a young structural engineer starting a career some 65 years ago, I encountered a price-fixing conspiracy. Responding to an ad, I was asked to identify my employer. In reply, the company spokesman informed me that his company had a mutual agreement with my employer not to hire one another’s engineers. Knowing that both companies were owned by dedicated Republicans, I immediately unjoined the party. It was tough enough earning a decent salary in the dismal field of structural engineering without supporting a political party dominated by your economic enemies.
For some strange reason, fewer people oppose price fixing for labor than for products. In fact, business magazines during the 1950s supported the general principle of labor price-fixing. FORTUNE ran articles on so-called “pirating” or “raiding,” turning the normal operation of free-market economics into a preposterous morality play. FORTUNE implied that a company seeking its competitors’ engineers was unethical in offering newly hired engineers higher pay. Unlike overpaid, job-hopping executives, whose pay-raising practices were generally praised, poorly paid engineers seeking higher pay were derided.
Employees’ only weapon against collective corporate power is unionization. But anti-union propaganda thrives, especially in the South. It is pathetic to see how easily the Koch Brothers’ propaganda machine molds tea partiers making $40,000 into anti-union zealots.
Opposition to minimum wage laws also reigns among union opponents. They don’t know that 19th century employers got maximum-wage laws enacted to limit workers’ pay below free-market rates.
If the plaintiffs win their Silicon-Valley lawsuit against Apple et al, it could help rebalance our struggling, lopsided economy, But only if the press publicizes the results, demonstrating big corporations’ contempt for the free-market ideology they so zealously preach.
• C.W. (Bill) Griffin is a retired consulting engineer. He has lived in Ahwatukee Foothills for 22 years.