Chris Burford cburford at
Mon Jul 27 00:00:49 PDT 1998

The joint venture in global telecommunications announced by AT & T and BT, provides an interesting insight into the relationship between capital and the state.

a) readers in the USA may know of BT as the first of the big privatisations of the Thatcher government. However as I posted somewhere in marxism-space some time ago, it was not quite the flagship of free enterprise that it was made out to be. Inside revelations by a former conservative cabinet minister in the final days of the last government revealed how anxious the Thatcher regime was about whether privatisation would work. Thatcher's instincts were totally against giving a monopoly to a private company and wanted it broken up into smaller units. But such was the apprehension about whether the sale would flop, that it was decided it had to go forward in one unit, and of course on very favourable terms to the new shareholders.

(In fact one of the first acts of the incoming Labour Government was to impose a windfall tax on such privatised companies, which went through with very little protest against arbitrary socialist measures.)

The result was that BT had the capital size and the stimulus of competition to be a significant player in Europe and the world, as a result of the close relationship between capital and government even in the era of supposed neo-liberal orthodoxy.

b) I was interested in the commentary on CNN. He emphasised that although the deal will probably get through the regulator, the regulator will want his pound of flesh. Perhaps readers in the USA will know what this means better, but I assume that even if there is some adjustment required so as to keep within the letter of competition, nothing will be done to impair the joint venture being an effective monopoly contender on a world stage.

I suggest that it is particularly interesting to watch the process of global centralisation of capital in communications, since the nature of industry is so social.

Chris Burford


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