SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 25, 2014

A look at what others are saying


The Salem News

---- — The following are excerpts from papers across New England:

There was power in a union.

Two snapshots of the labor movement in America, taken a century apart, paint starkly contrasting pictures:

In 1913, labor activist and songwriter Joe Hill wrote “There is Power in a Union,” a song telling of a way to have “freedom from wage slavery.” Earlier this month, workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., rejected a proposal to join the United Auto Workers.

Each, in its way, was a symbol of the times.

What, one might reasonably ask, is such a big deal about a single vote at a single auto plant?

Here’s what: VW not only didn’t oppose the bid to organize the workforce, it effectively supported it.

And yet, workers turned back the proposal, 712-626.

What a difference a century makes. Or a few decades.

We well remember when the UAW had north of 1.5 million members. Today, its rolls add up to a mere 400,000.

Generations of American schoolchildren have learned the history of the labor movement in America. They’ve been taught of the seminal figures such as Samuel Gompers, the immigrant New York cigar maker who would go on to become the first president of the American Federation of Labor. They’d learn of the International Workers of the World, the early-20th century union known as the Wobblies. They’d learn about the growth of private-sector unions throughout much of the 1900s and their decline in more recent decades.

If the UAW couldn’t succeed in Chattanooga, it’s hard to see how the once-mighty union will be able to stage a successful campaign anywhere. The UAW held all the cards but still managed to lose the game.

Wobbly, indeed.

— The Republican of Springfield

Did you cringe at the news Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, is looking to take over Time Warner, the nation’s second-largest cable provider?

We certainly did.

We are not ready to call for a halt to the deal under federal antitrust laws, but we certainly hope federal regulators turn a skeptical eye toward merger plans.

For many of those served by Comcast, tenancy as a customer often feels like imprisonment.

Here in New Hampshire, there are few options to avoid Comcast’s rate increases. And it is useless trying to argue. There is always an excuse, never mind that Comcast’s existing economy of scale should be driving rates down, not up.

And we are not alone in our discontent.

As one critic of the merger wrote at theatlantic.com: “The Internet is full of grumbling this morning over the news that Comcast plans to buy Time Warner Cable — a deal that would combine the nation’s two largest cable providers, both of which are already loathed for their villainously awful customer service, into one big ole’ leviathan controlling just less than 30 percent of the pay-television industry.”

But all is not bad with Comcast. Its technology, if not state of the art in every corner of the cable world, is generally better than the alternatives and more efficient.

This is especially the case here in New Hampshire, since Verizon sold out to Fairpoint and decided to develop a fiber-optic network elsewhere.

This left Comcast’s Granite State customers with few options other than to slice and dice services — satellite for television, ditching phone service tethered to the wall or a modem, and settling for slower Internet speeds with Fairpoint or, heaven forbid, with dial-up.

This is not to say a larger more powerful Comcast would automatically be a bad thing.

As was pointed out by a Feb. 14 series of articles in The Wall Street Journal, there are some potential advantages.

For one, the merger could mean more leverage on programming and the prices paid. But will Comcast share its bounty with subscribers?

The Journal also estimates the merger will save some $50 million in operating costs, again something that could benefit customers.

For Time Warner customers, there will most likely be technology upgrades with higher speeds and more services.

And what of the age-old plea by cable subscribers for a la carte programming? Will Comcast’s larger customer base finally allow such offerings? Or will Comcast be given freer rein to piggyback useless channels onto those actually wanted by subscribers?

As they say on television, stay tuned for more once federal regulators start to scrutinize the deal between Comcast and Time Warner.

— Foster’s Daily Democrat of Dover, N.H.