Dividir para conquistar
It might seem a little bit of a stretch to equate the open source community’s struggle against Microsoft with a bloody Kentucky coal miners’ strike, but the tactics used by Duke Power and the Eastover Mining Company in 1974 to prevent workers at the Brookside Mine from joining the United Mine Workers of America have something in common with the divide and conquer tactics Microsoft is using to maintain its market dominance.
This isn’t hyperbole, it’s the way big companies and governments have managed to control human beings (and manipulate the marketplace) as long as there have been corporations and kingdoms.
No, Microsoft hasn’t resorted to violence to protect their bottom line, but sewing fear, uncertainty and doubt, and coercing companies to take sides by signing patent agreements is only the most recent version of a classic power play used effectively for generations.
For some real insight into how divide and conquer strategies work, and how they can be overcome, it’s worth watching Barbara Koppel’s Academy Award Winning 1976 documentary, Harlan County, USA. The movie shows how a large corporation uses money and fear to exploit divisions in a community and isolate those who oppose it. Local government and law enforcement is co-opted, racial and religious divisions are exploited, and the end result is a community at war with itself that is too fragmented (and exhausted) to stand up to the company.
The only way to fight the power is through solidarity, something that wears thin when individual liberty and livliehoods are constantly threatened.
Harlan County, USA tells this timeless story in stark terms, and it’s hard to watch it without noticing how unchecked corporate power has an almost reflexive aversion to anything collective. It comes from a faulty binary mindset: on/off, good/evil, male/female, black/white, etc. If it improves pay and conditions for workers, then it must hurt profits and shareholders. What’s good for the many must be bad for the few. Through that lens, it’s easy to understand why Microsoft sees the open source community as such a threat- it’s just in the nature of things.
But fortunately, it’s also in human nature to pull together and resist.