Workers vs. capitalists on the Internet

Greg Butterfield theredguard at
Sat Jan 29 16:13:39 MST 2000

Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Feb. 3, 2000
issue of Workers World newspaper


[The following is adapted from a talk on what every worker
should know about the AOL-Time Warner merger by Gary Wilson,
a managing editor of Workers World newspaper, at a Workers
World Forum in New York on Jan. 21.]

Workers World newspaper had a headline a couple years ago
that declared "Merger Mayhem." That was a great headline.

It described exactly what was happening and captured in
two simple words the impact that these giant mergers were
having on the working class.

The trouble is, you could probably run that headline every

Every day there are new mergers announced, with layoffs
and cuts in the new merged corporation. This is followed by
breakups and spinoffs, which are then followed by new
mergers. The reason for this mayhem is that capital
generally goes to wherever the rate of profit is highest.
But eventually the rate of profit starts to decline and then
capital flees to the newest source of high profits.

So the first question we ask when a big merger like the
AOL-Time Warner merger is announced is: What about the

Workers World carried an excellent account in the Jan. 27
issue on what the AOL-Time Warner merger will mean for the
workers at these companies. The bosses will use this merger
first to cut jobs, and, if they can, break the back of the

For us, that is one of the most important aspects of this
or any other merger. And we want to support the workers and
their union in their struggles to protect their jobs. There
is absolutely no reason that the workers should lose their
jobs just because the bosses have decided that their profits
have to be higher.


Of course, there are other aspects to this merger. Its
impact will be wider than what happens to the workers at AOL
and Time Warner.

AOL is the biggest Internet service provider in the
country and probably the world. Time Warner is one of the
biggest media conglomerates on earth.

The merged company will be called AOL-Time Warner. Putting
AOL at the beginning of the new company's name is a tip-off
that the Internet is the focus of the new company.

The Internet is the new technology that has profoundly
changed business and the economy. What does it mean? And why
is media giant Time Warner merging with a much smaller
Internet company and giving the Internet company top
billing? After all, an earlier Time Warner merger with Ted
Turner's CNN didn't involve any kind of name change.

The Internet is a fascinating subject. It is a new
technology that was not built by the so-called free
enterprise system. No, in fact, free enterprise had nothing
to do with it. It was funded entirely by big government,
first by the Pentagon--which is the biggest of all big
government--and then by other agencies of the U.S.


By design, the Internet is a thoroughly socialized
technology. By this I mean that it is completely socialist
in form and remains so to this day. It can exist only
through the collective efforts of computer workers in every
country of the world, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
This is true even though the Internet is now being

In this respect, the Internet can be seen as socialist.
Except for one glaring contradiction. The capitalists have
control of it.

This is not really anything new. Lenin, in his primer on
imperialism, describes the growth of monopoly capitalism. He
shows how the monopoly corporations really create the
foundation for socialism. They completely socialize the
labor process and make it ready for a socialist takeover.
The only obstacle is the private ownership by the

Anyway, never before has there been such a totally global,
completely collective, socialist technology as the Internet.
It is hard to describe this fully. But the Internet is truly
global. And the centers of its development are now equally
outside of the United States--from South Africa to Mexico,
from Pakistan and India to China as well as Europe.

Only a week or two ago IBM announced it was opening up a
whole new division. It will be headquartered in India. The
Internet makes it possible to do this. And the reason is not
simply explained by the lower pay that workers in India will
receive or the ability to have instant worldwide
communications through the Internet. The fact is, some of
the most important development of the Internet technologies
have come out of India.

The Internet is big. We know that the "experts" on TV all
say the Internet is big. So we all agree that it is big even
if we don't know what that really means.


So where does the AOL-Time Warner merger fit into all

AOL is the number-one company for providing personal
Internet services for home use. And AOL is in trouble. You
may not know that. And it may not have been mentioned in the
TV newscasts about the merger.

But the fact is, AOL is certain to die in a couple of
years unless it can completely change itself somehow.

AOL sells dial-up service to the Internet. And the day is
not too far away when dial-up connections will be completely
replaced by different kinds of connections.

There are three basic new kinds of connections that are
coming. These are called broadband connections. One is DSL,
which uses the phone lines but is not a dialup connection.
The second is a cable connection, using your cable TV
connection. The third is satellite connections using small
satellite dishes.

What you may not know is that right now you can't get AOL
in the usual way through any of these new high-speed
connections. In fact, AOL has a big lawsuit going against
the cable industry over this very issue. So there have been
many predictions that within the next five years AOL would
just disappear altogether if it can't find a way to be the
primary service provider for broadband connections.

Time Warner is a different kind of failure. Time Warner
has been trying for years to sell its publications on the

Time Warner publications like Time magazine and Sports
Illustrated were charging for access to their pages. They
couldn't do it. Now all of those publications are available
for free on the Internet.

CNN, also part of Time Warner, has never charged for
access. It has become the second most popular news site on
the Internet.

But the bosses at Time Warner still want to charge money
for accessing their "content" on the Internet. What Time
Warner hopes to do is to take AOL's success at selling
Internet services and use it through its cable connections.
The Time Warner execs hope to then be able to collect money
from everyone who reads their publications, listens to their
music or watches their movie clips on the Web.

But there are some problems with this. Even if AOL takes
control of all of Time Warner's cable connections around the
country, that's only a fraction of the home users on the
Internet. Most of the Internet would not be tied into AOL's
exclusive system.

AOL-Time Warner seems to be determined to control access
for home users of the Internet, and charge a premium for it.
But there is no reason to think it will succeed in doing

Since this is the age of monopoly capitalism, we know that
unless there is a workers' revolution that overturns the
system, monopoly capitalism will constantly seek out ways to
control the Internet.

But it would be a mistake to say that AOL-Time Warner is
in a position to take over the Internet.


In relation to the Internet, AOL-Time Warner is only one
player. It may be the biggest among home users, but the
Internet is much bigger than home users.

In fact, as much as 90 percent of the use of the Internet
is for commerce by big business. This is the dominant force
on the Internet.

Businesses are using the Internet for everything from
tying together company work sites to worker training to
production. Company-to-company business is now dominated by
the Internet. Email is now the primary form of business
communication. Banking and the stock market are all
completely tied into the Internet.

The Fortune 500 and Wall Street banks aren't interested in
letting AOL-Time Warner control access to the Internet. They
require that the Internet and access to it remain open, just
as the roads and waterways must be open and accessible to
all businesses.

If they are selling on the Internet, they don't want to
pay an AOL-Time Warner tax for every transaction. They will
require open and free access to their company Web sites and
the free flow of email.

In fact, the government's lawsuit against Microsoft is
probably motivated most by a drive by a significant section
of the ruling class who were alarmed by Microsoft's move to
take control of the Internet and access to it through its
Windows operating system. Microsoft's Windows is used on
almost 95 percent of the computer desktops.


What shouldn't be forgotten about the Internet is that it
is completely dependent on computer workers around the
world. These workers have a power much greater than they

There are many kinds of Internet workers doing many, many
different tasks. It is truly a collective effort.

So when Seattle happened, when the WTO demonstrations were
taking place, computer workers around the world figured out
a way to bring down the World Trade Organization web site
during the days of the demonstrations.

I say, to paraphrase Karl Marx, workers of the world
unite, we have nothing to lose but some oppressive Web

                         - END -

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