Morning Star strike begins

Morning Star journalists set up a picket line on Wednesday February 25 outside the Islington offices of the “daily paper of the left”. They also called for a mass picket/lobby of the 15-member management committee of the Peoples Press Printing Society (the cooperative which owns the Morning Star) from 10.30am this Saturday, when it meets at Ardleigh Road.

The day before the strike began a 250-strong rally of Star supporters in Conway Hall on February 24 threw down a powerful challenge to the despised “North Korean” Hicks-Rosser family dynasty which at present rules the paper.

The NUJ strike is official and indefinite. It threatens the Star’s precarious existence - as well as the survival of the Communist Party of Britain, which was formed as a Morning Star supporters’ organisation after the paper rebelled against political control by the then Eurocommunist-dominated CPGB in the mid-80s.

The three journalists who voted against the action, including deputy editor Paul Corry, are not scabbing. John Haylett - whose sacking as editor was the immediate cause of the dispute - remains suspended. But Acas talks previously refused by the NUJ began on the first day of the strike. However, they are unlikely to resolve the dispute unless management backs down. Whether or not Haylett is reinstated, the chances of PPPS chief executive Mary Rosser and her cohorts surviving a shareholders’ general meeting - the AGM in June, or a requisitioned special meeting - are slim. Those who are CPB members will almost certainly face the prospect of disciplinary action within the organisation.

Strikers distributed No1 of The Workers’ Morning Star, explaining their case and listing messages of support received from 13 trade union general secretaries including Arthur Scargill, 25 former Morning Star employees, five MPs including Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn (interestingly Mike Ambrose reported how Ken Livingstone refused support), and the political committee of the CPB, listed under “other organisations”. 

The strikers write that if management’s actions go unchallenged, “it would represent a defeat for the Morning Star itself ... all the years of campaigning for trade union rights and justice for workers would mean nothing.” They also stressed their loyalty to the paper and its history. “Who would buy a paper that said one thing and behaved like the worst capitalist management that it has spent decades exposing? ... The NUJ chapel is fighting to save the Morning Star from dynastic dictatorship for the movement to which it truly belongs.”

The February 24 rally, chaired by ex-tobacco workers union leader Terry Marsland, ended with an overwhelming vote for the immediate reinstatement of editor John Haylett, suspended since January 24 on “trumped up charges” (NUJ chapel) by a management which is making a despicable stand on the Thatcherite principle of “management’s right to manage”. Fire Brigades Union leader Ken Cameron pilloried this “disgusting” anti-working class formulation from the platform, disclosing how he had written a reference backing John Haylett for the job of editor, and had been lobbied by unnamed “people” to withdraw it - indirectly confirming the longstanding civil war between factions at the top of the CPB.

Management committee member and Institute of Employment Rights director Carolyn Jones (who works with John Hendy QC, but is not an SLP member) explained how she withdrew from its three-person committee of enquiry because there was no case to answer, and it was, in her opinion, flouting agreed procedures and natural justice. The last straw was Mary Rosser’s comment: “You’re not here to put the union case. You’re not here to defend the editor. You’re here to uphold management’s right to manage.”

The remaining two members of the committee - accuser Rosser and chief witness Bob Newlands - have tabled five charges which “do not amount to a row of beans” (Haylett). Among these, Haylett is accused of using a “different” name during the 1997 trip to China, a charge which damns the accusers. He took a new name years ago in order to evade the security forces of apartheid South Africa, an entirely honourable reason.

Haylett went to great lengths to report, and deny, the “smear” that the strike was politically motivated: “MPs have been approached and told that what is taking place is a plot, a conspiracy, by leaders of the CPB to merge with the SLP and to make the Morning Star the mouthpiece of the new party.” Haylett quoted a fax sent to Tribune alleging that what was taking place has its roots in the SLP's interest in the Morning Star. He also produced a fax sent to Tony Dubbins, GPMU general secretary, from management committee member Annie Marjoram. It contained, “as requested at the GPMU Women’s Conference”, the minutes of the CPB political committee. Haylett demanded to know where Marjoram, who is a member of the Labour Party, gets the CPB political committee minutes. Marjoram and her friends on the management committee have, he said, invented a story linking Haylett with Scargill, the SLP and what she calls the “sectarians”. Haylett asked rather strangely therefore whether it was “an industrial dispute, or is it a political vendetta?” His perspective was as a result typically trade unionist. “Pressure must be put on management committee members to put loyalty to the movement before loyalty to cliques or individuals.”

The stand of Star workers against an oppressive management regime is principled, and deserves support. There is a rotten political line-up around the Hicks-Rosser clique. Socialist Action, the group associated with Socialist Campaign Group News, is said to be on their side. Livingstone, perhaps the left MP most likely to secure a safe place within Blair’s New Labour, declines to add his support to the strikers. The New Worker, paper of the Stalinite New Communist Party, which has sold itself to North Korea, refused a paid advertisement from the strikers.

Paul Corry, Star deputy editor and CPB executive committee member, admits there are political differences. Where those in the Rob Griffiths camp see only personal conflict and bad management, Corry, for the Hicks camp, advances a clear British road to socialism programme. “If there is a difference,” he told me, “it is whether we should work to save the old labour movement, the old Labour Party, or whether it should be ditched and something new built.”

At the February 24 rally question time Stan Keable, whose father once owned the forerunner of the Morning Star, the Daily Worker - and sold it to the PPPS for a shilling - asked CPB general secretary Griffiths and ousted general secretary Mike Hicks to explain the political differences between the two factions in the CPB leadership. Alas, no straightforward answer was forthcoming.

Nevertheless Griffiths related how the CPB executive committee meeting in January received no warning of the suspension of Haylett which followed only two weeks later. He spelt out “the threat” posed “to the very existence of the party”. Significantly he went on to attack “the attempt to try and smuggle through the sacking of John Haylett,” and “lever in” Paul Corry, “the candidate who a whole number of members of the management committee have obviously wanted to be editor ever since the retirement of Tony Chater”. He finished by “nailing the latest in a whole series of lies” that there is “some kind of plot taking place between the SLP and the CPB leadership to hijack the paper.”

The October meeting of the CPB executive committee had agreed, with the support of both Hicks and Rosser, to discuss matters with the SLP where there may be some common ground for cooperation and to discuss the undoubted disagreements that lay between them. “All this stuff that we read in faxes from Annie Marjoram about an SLP-CPB conspiracy is a pack of lies,” Griffiths insisted.

Hicks, who brought half a dozen bodyguards with him, succeeded in antagonising an already hostile audience through his uncomradely, petulant attitude. He certainly destroyed his reputation as a militant trade unionist with a disgraceful defence of “management’s right to manage”.

Ian Farrell