THERE IS SOMETHING quite ludicrous about that antitrust suit filed by the International Association of Machinists against the countries that form OPEC. The suit charges that these foreign nations have conspired to fix the price of oil.(They have.) It asserts that price-fixing conspiracies violate American antitrust law. (They do.) It then demands that a federal judge assess damages against those nations and order them to stop fixing prices. (A nice trick, if you can pull it off.)
Regardless of the legal niceties of this case - and there are many - can you imagine the government of, say, Iran, withdrawing from OPEC and voluntarily paying a billion or so dollars in damages because a judge in California tells it to? Or how it would react if the judge ordered Iranian-owned assets in the United States seized to pay the judgments?
Equally ludicrous was the reaction in this country when word leaked out that the Carter administration is considering intervening on behalf of OPEC in the law suit. High administration officials said they couldn't talk about it because it was "pending litigation." Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan described what the administration is doing as "the accommodation of the American government to a near-criminal conspiracy." And the lawyer who filed the suit said he couldn't understand why the government might consider intervening on such "technical grounds."
The technical grounds are such little things as whether an American court has jurisdiction over the government of a foreign nation and whether a federal judge can bar a foreign government from doing something (fixing the price of oil) that an American state government can legally do.
It is easy to understand why some OPEC governments might be worried about the suit - you never can tell what some judge is going to do, especially if he doesn't have any gasoline for his car. And it is easy to understand why Secretary of the Treasury W. Michael Blumental is worried about OPEC dollars fleeing the country. If you thought some judge might rule against you, you might think about moving all your money to Switzerland, too.
We'll know more about this sideshow in the energy crisis today. The case is now going before a judge with a lawyer there to argue for the machinists and, most likely, nobody there to argue for OPEC. None of the governments in that organization has officially recognized the existence of the case.