Civil war at Morning Star

The ‘official communist’ Morning Star is in crisis after its journalists, including the whole editorial team, held a seven-hour union meeting on February 4 about their dispute with management — the Peoples Press Printing Society, in the person of its chief executive Mary Rosser. The National Union of Journalists chapel is up in arms over the suspension, on ‘‘trumped up charges’’ worthy of Rupert Murdoch, of Star editor John Haylett. 

As usual, Star readers have to look elsewhere to discover what is going on at the very heart of the paper they are told belongs to them — ‘‘the only daily paper owned by its readers’’.

In the paper which prattled on in favour of Gorbachev’s perestroika, not a word has yet appeared about Haylett’s suspension, nor his replacement by Rosser’s son-in-law, Paul Corry - a loyal family member of the Hicks-Rosser clique which, so far, still controls the PPPS.

Haylett’s removal has been covered in The Guardian (January 28) and Tribune (January 30), but was predicted in the Weekly Worker (January 22) as a likely retaliation to Mike Hicks’ removal from general secretaryship of the Communist Party of Britain. Haylett had led the attack on Hicks within the CPB executive committee.

The swiftness with which this prediction came true, however, was matched only by the characteristic ineptness and stupidity with which Rosser made her counterattack. This casts doubt over the ability of the Hicks-Rosser clique to maintain its hold over the paper for much longer. I would offer not a prediction, but an odds-on bet, that the days of Hicks, Rosser and Corry at the Star and PPPS are numbered. Even if they make Haylett’s suspension stick, it is difficult to see how they will survive a CPB mobilisation in his defence at the PPPS annual general meetings in early June, where six of the fifteen seats are up for election. This will be crucial for the survival of the new leadership of the CPB under Robert Griffiths.

Haylett may well live to edit another day. The misdemeanour with which he is charged does indeed seem trivial, but in fact touches directly on the central question at the heart of the Star’s and CPB’s struggle to exist - whether the paper serves the party or the party serves the paper. He is evidently ‘guilty’ of giving permission for a CPB member to use Morning Star equipment to scan in a CPB document, something quite natural for a communist leader working for a communist newspaper, but anathema to any capitalist employer or small minded bureaucrat like Rosser.

The handling of the disciplinary action has been equally mind-blowing for anyone who believes the Star’s rhetoric in defence of workers’ rights. 

The loyal employee who, having personally witnessed the squandering of the newspaper’s scarce resources for the selfish purposes of the CPB, lodged a complaint against the editor, was advertising manager Bob Newlands. Mary Rosser had no doubt primed toads like Newlands to look out for such an opportunity to get her own back on Haylett for leading the attack on her husband and collaborator Mike Hicks on the executive committee. She seized her chance, presenting the matter, without prior notice, to the PPPS management committee meeting on Saturday January 24. The charge against Haylett had not been sent out with the agenda, so only management committee members loyal to Rosser and Hicks would have been alerted. Haylett’s suspension - for ‘‘gross misconduct’’ - was carried by seven votes to four, with another four absent. The next ordinary meeting of the committee is due at the end of March.

Having suspended the editor, they appointed a tribunal to ‘‘investigate’’ the charges - Bob Newlands, the complainant and witness; Mary Rosser, the real instigator of the charge; and management committee member Carolyne Jones, who has already, to her credit, resigned from the tribunal.

The journalists’ industrial action on February 4 circumvents the inordinate delays required by the anti-trade union laws before official action can be started. Eighty percent of the chapel have voted for an official ballot on industrial action. After the result on February 17, a further seven days’ notice is required before industrial action can legally begin.

The chapel’s demand that all sides of the dispute be reported in the Star has, until now, fallen on deaf ears, so the dispute is unknown to the readers. Mary Rosser has refused to talk to the union representatives.

The industrial dispute over the editor’s rights as a worker, as an employee, however, is in reality only the form taken by the civil war between trends or fiefdoms within the CPB/Morning Star camp of ‘official communism’.

The tit-for-tat conflict which has come to a head with the removal of general secretary Hicks and the reciprocal suspension of editor Haylett threatens the alliance between ‘party’ and paper, and therefore puts a question mark over the future of both.

The new CPB leaders have, like the Eurocommunists before them, taken the first step towards mobilising its membership for a showdown of PPPS shareholders, should that prove necessary, by explaining their side of the dispute in a circular to members. Their explanation, however, is decidedly unconvincing. Instead of rallying members to defend ‘party’ control over the paper, they seek to play down the politics of the dispute.

According to some executive committee members, Haylett’s suspension is ‘‘very much a trade union issue’’, and is ‘‘not linked’’ to the removal of Hicks. The CPB has previously expressed its ‘‘full confidence’’ in Haylett’s editorship, and sees no reason to change that view.

This presumably refers to the time when Tony Chater retired as editor, and John Haylett, as deputy editor and therefore heir apparent, was not automatically promoted. Though Rosser’s attempt to install Corry failed then, she is trying again now.

Undoubtedly, the Griffiths camp favours a more electoralist CPB as opposed to the plodding economism of Hicks, Rosser and co. Installed as general secretary to save the moribund CPB, he has perhaps provoked the final crisis.

Ian Farrell