High noon at the Star

Much more than the Morning Star’s profile as “the daily pa­per of the left” is at stake in the official dispute over the suspen­sion, since January 24, of its editor John Haylett. Editorial staff have voted 12 to 3 for indefinite strike ac­tion from 10am on Wednesday Feb­ruary 25, and called a meeting in solidarity with Haylett for 7.30pm on February 24 in Conway Hall, Holborn.

After consulting management com­mittee members of the Peoples Press Printing Society (the cooperative which owns the Morning Star),chief executive Mary Rosser agreed to Acas talks with “no preconditions” - ie, while John Haylett remains sus­pended. The union offered to talk, but only if Haylett was first reinstated. The official NUJ strike decision is binding on deputy (and acting) edi­tor Paul Corry and the other two Morning Star NUJ chapel members who voted against the action.

The dispute threatens to under­mine the paper’s remaining support base on the Labour left and in the trade union bureaucracy. The NUJ has written to trade union general secretaries to request support, and accuses Star management of flout­ing agreed procedures. According to Tribune (February 13), “Left MPs Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn, Harry Barnes, John Cryer and Harry Cohen” have written to the Star supporting Haylett’s reinstatement. The Guard­ian (February 17) adds the name of Dennis Skinner MP. Although re­placement journalists could no doubt be found, the option of Murdoch-­style scabbing would be too damag­ing for the management side to contemplate.

Paul Corry rightly assesses the clan­ger: “It’s high noon. If there’s a strike of any duration, the paper will close.” The PPPS is a ‘one shareholder, one vote’ cooperative, the paper’s circulation is down to a mere 7,000 readers - mostly pensioners - and its finan­cial reserves are sparse. It depends on a £15,000 monthly fighting fund, support which will inevitably be undermined by the dispute. But it is not only the paper which is in danger of extinction: the Communist Party of Britain, in my estimation, could not survive long without it.

Individually, each journalist, includ­ing Haylett, stands to lose an annual salary of only £10,500 if the Star closes clown. As an NUJ chapel spokesman pointed out, “We came to work at the Morning Star out of po­litical commitment, but we will not stand aside and let our members’ rights be trampled on.” It seems no one is getting rich off the Morning Star; on the contrary, it is maintained through loyalty and a degree of self­-sacrifice. What is at stake is such power and influence as the paper still commands. On the surface it is a trade union dispute about rights at work. Underneath is a battle between op­portunist cliques.

To see the CPB for what it is - a Morning Star supporters’ organisa­tion - one merely has to recognise the obvious fact that the present-day CPB, with its pathetically low level of commitment, would be totally inca­pable of creating a daily paper if one did not already exist. We have here not communist revolutionaries organ­ised to lead the working class in the struggle for self-liberation, but re­formist trade union functionaries and nostalgic supporters of the former USSR, organised as carrion to fight over the carcass of the ‘official com­munist’ movement.

The slow decline and eventual liq­uidation of the ‘official communist’ CPGB was, of course, no mere mis­fortune, but the necessary product of its - as we have argued - ‘revolu­tionary’ reformist programme, the British road to socialism (see J Con­rad Which road? London 1991). To “re-establish” the CPB on the tried, tested and failed basis of the BRS was to repeat history, only in miniature. The present bureaucratic falling out between opposing cliques who, to the bafflement of their supporters, claim to have no political differences, was predictable. The battle cry of the new general secretary, Robert Griffiths, in the present conflict - “unite around the BRS” - is cretin­ous.

The reality of the CPB insults the name ‘Communist Party’. The Morn­ing Star no longer pretends to be communist. The ‘party’ depends on the paper. The paper depends on the patronage of trade union bureaucrats. The PPPS cooperative may be “inde­pendent” of any party, as Mary Rosser insists, but its politics are not independent working class politics. This would require working class fi­nance: in other words money raised by revolutionaries for revolutionary purposes. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and both the Star and the CPB dance to another tune.

It is just such a fragile, waning project that Arthur Scargill set his eye upon early in 1997, thinking to make it his own. Many Socialist Labour Party members recall how interested Arthur was in the workings of the Morning Star and the PPPS - how only 370 shareholders attended the 1997 AGM; how only 50 could requi­sition a special general meeting; or was it better to wait until the 1998 AGM? - and so on. Eventually he approached Mary Rosser, enquiring precisely how big were the paper’s financial problems, and offering to solve them - in effect he offered to buy the paper out. But the Star was not for sale. It is precisely control by moneybags - even of the Scargill va­riety - that the cooperative form of ownership prevents. A £1 share buys the same single vote as £100,000.

As Rosser told me. “A meeting did take place in the summer of 1997 in which the finances of the Morning Star were discussed. Although Scargill made it clear he was able to help the Star financially, he was not willing to do this on the basis of the existing cooperative.” By August Scargill had gone cold on the idea of a coup attempt, to the surprise of some of his SLP comrades - who perhaps thought only in terms of a democratic takeover by shareholders loyal to the SLP instead of the CPB. This would have been entirely possible, had Scargill’s imaginative claims for SLP membership - “Britain’s fourth biggest party” - contained even a grain of truth.

The failure of the SLP to recruit sig­nificant numbers explains Scargill’s public rejection, at the December 1997 SLP Congress, of Alec McFadden’s proposal to mobilise for the PPPS AGM - accompanied by moralising about how entryism is wrong in prin­ciple. The PPPS management commit­tee, however, did receive a report warning of a possible hostile takeo­ver attempt, not by Scargill, but by sections of the SLP, and authorised Rosser to keep watch for any sudden influx of share applications which might indicate a plot. This is evidently the substance of the rumour of a block on new shareholders. Rosser insists there is no such block - so if you want to attend the AGM in June, now is the time to apply for shares.

So far there has been no evidence of such a coup. Although the CPB leadership group under new general secretary Rob Griffiths can be ex­pected to mobilise, they will not nec­essarily win - especially if the editorship remains beyond their con­trol, and the Star campaigns for its ‘independence’. However, the widen­ing split in the CPB camp offers a new opportunity for Scargill, who, it seems, was quick to move after Mike Hicks lost the general secretaryship.

I am informed that the minutes of the CPB political committee meeting at the end of January record how ex­-CPB executive committee member Bob Crow approached CPB industrial organiser Kevin Halpin proposing an informal meeting at which Scargill would be present. Rob Griffiths, chair­man Richard Maybin and John Haylett were delegated to attend, and to raise the question of the resolu­tion about the Morning Star rejected at the SLP Congress. An obvious topic of discussion would be a deal for wresting control of the PPPS and the Star from Hicks, Rosser and Corry.

CPB leaders such as Haylett, Maybin and Griffiths made a rod for their own backs when they threw their lot in with Tony Chater’s unprincipled anti-Party declaration of independ­ence. If the Star was not to be con­trolled by the CPGB then, why should it be controlled by their organisation today?

Ian Farrell