Indefinite strike at Star
Sacking the editor threatens demise of ‘daily paper of the left’
Robert Griffiths, Richard Maybin, John Haylett and other oppositionists in the ‘official’ CPGB backed Tony Chater and Mary Rosser in the 1980s. They seized the Morning Star not so much against the Eurocommunists, but for themselves. Ever since, their backers have been smarting under the whip of bureaucratic abuse by the Hicks-Rosser dynasty. First in the Peoples Press Printing Society, the cooperative that owns the Morning Star, then in the ‘re-established’ Communist Party of Britain. Having backed Rosser and Chater in their liquidationist claim that the CPGB was “an outside body”, they should hardly be surprised to have their CPB treated in the same way. The ‘North Korean’ Hicks-Rosser dynasty is indeed a monster of their own making.
The accumulated grievances against bureaucratic excess came to a head with the ousting of Mike Hicks as general secretary and Mary Rosser as treasurer at the January 10-11 1998 CPB executive committee meeting. Two weeks later Rosser (with brother-in-law Pat Hicks) ambushed Haylett at the PPPS management committee. His immediate suspension was voted through. Naturally she concealed her intentions not only from Haylett, but from the CPB executive committee, of which she is still a member.
The Hicks-Rosser faction was supposedly upset at the semi-positive (ie, neutral) coverage given to Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party congress in December. This was regarded by some, it seems, as a new turn. The CPB executive committee had decided in October to engage in informal (ie, secret - not for the rank and file to know about) talks with Scargill. Personally, I must confess, I found the coverage unremarkable. But it foreshadowed the imminent outbreak of hostilities.
The 15 journalists in the NUJ Morning Star chapel began indefinite official strike action on February 25 for Haylett’s reinstatement as editor. The following day Haylett was sacked. This raised the stakes before Saturday’s meeting of the PPPS management committee. The committee voted 8 to 6 to back Rosser against Haylett, with only one member - John Friel of the GPMU executive - absent.
On a motion from John Thomson of Ucatt, the management committee resolved that: “Because of the intransigence of both sides to the dispute, the only way to resolve the matter is to go to arbitration, the arbitrary body to be agreed by the NUJ and the Morning Star Cooperative Society” (the latter is wholly owned by the PPPS - effectively a subcommittee of it). As John Haylett told his supporters afterwards, arbitration rarely results in reinstatement.
The sacking decision was taken by Rosser and CPB member Bob Newland - the two remaining members of the disciplinary tribunal set up on January 24, after Institute of Employment Rights director Carolyn Jones withdrew because of the ‘flouting of agreed procedures’.
The 6 votes against arbitration (ie, for Haylett), were from Haylett himself, CPB executive member Ann Green, CPB Welsh committee member Gareth Miles, Carolyne Jones, Alec Falconer MEP and Phil Davies, GMB official handling the Magnet strike.
Voting for arbitration, besides the mover, were the two names said to be associated with the small Trotskyite group, Socialist Action - Annie Marjoram and Labour Party prospective candidate Kumar Murshid; two CPB executive committee members - Joan Bellamy and political committee member Francis Wilcox, both from the northwest district committee of the CPB; and three other CPB members - management committee chairman George Wake, secretary of the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions; Terry Herbert; and TGWU official Pat Hicks, brother of ousted CPB general secretary Mike Hicks.
If Rosser has temporarily won the battle inside the management committee, the line-up of forces outside seems to indicate that she miscalculated badly in taking on Haylett. Judgement and retribution will surely be delivered by the PPPS shareholders at their first opportunity. The mobilisation of 250 Haylett supporters to the eve-of-strike solidarity rally and 150 to lobby the management committee on Saturday February 28, pathetic though it is compared to the thousands mobilised to the Wembley Conference Centre during the 1980s struggle for control of the Star, indicates the balance of forces will be against the Hicks-Rosser faction at the June shareholders annual meeting, or perhaps an earlier special meeting. It also shows the pitiful level of commitment in the “1,200-strong” CPB, which could only muster the equivalent of a fifth of its claimed membership for a crisis that “threatens the very existence of the paper” (Robert Griffiths) on which its existence as an organisation depends.
Significantly, no mobilisation has been tried by the Hicks-Rosser faction. A further proof of their isolation has been furnished by the peculiar stance of Ken Livingstone MP. He pointedly refused to join Benn, Corbyn, Cryer, Skinner and other left MPs and trade union officials in backing the strike for Haylett’s reinstatement. Indeed Livingstone tabled an early day motion in the House of Commons on February 24 criticising Haylett and implicitly opposing the strike. He only withdrew it the day after under pressure from the Socialist Campaign Group. As usual, Livingstone’s motion successfully combines a radical left pose with an impeccable loyalty to his party - Blair’s New Labour. The motion read:
“That this house believes that, as the only daily newspaper in the English language consistently supporting the trade union and labour movement, the Morning Star makes a unique contribution to the diversity and pluralism of this country’s press; is concerned that recent political differences threaten the future of the newspaper; notes that these differences started with the elected management committee’s criticism of the editor’s editorial backing for a demonstration at which one of the advertised speakers was on record as questioning whether Hitler’s holocaust against the Jewish people occurred and the editor’s subsequent refusal to report the withdrawal of the TUC and the Jewish Board of Deputies from that demonstration when they learnt of the views of this speaker; further notes the difference over whether the newspaper should continue to be aligned with the broad trade union and labour movement or alternatively support the Socialist Labour Party, with Arthur Scargill recently offering up to £250,000 as part of a proposal to change the structure of the Morning Star and align it with the SLP, and that the political committee of the Communist Party of Britain on January 28 decided to organise a meeting of its general secretary and the editor of the Morning Star with Arthur Scargill to discuss the Morning Star’s relationship with the SLP; and urges all sides to settle their differences amicably while maintaining the Morning Star’s longstanding support for the broad labour and trade union movement.”
Alas, Livingstone’s “broad” New Labour sectarianism is echoed by foreign editor Brian Denny on the picket line. Speaking with the aid of a megaphone, he railed against ‘sectarianism’ in the traditional ‘official communist’ sectarian way:
“We can get back to work with John as editor of the Morning Star and defending the policy of the paper in the interests of the broad movement, not in cabals of little Trotskyite groups, but openly, within the movement, come out with our position and proud of our newspaper.”
This gives the lie to the Morning Star’s claim to be “the daily paper of the left”. Livingstone and Denny are in fact arguing for the paper to maintain its traditional pro-Labourism, and to continue to exclude any political trends to its left, in classic opportunist fashion. The Star has systematically concealed from its readers the very existence of the Weekly Worker and the CPGB. Wherever possible the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party - even though the latter has actually been printing the Star for the last few years - have likewise been kept off the pages of this champion of perestroika.
At the eve-of-strike rally, George Anthony spoke for many when he called for a struggle to “save the paper for the working class”. On the picket line NUJ national organiser Bernie Corbett declared:
“The management committee hold the newspaper in trust for the entire working class and labour movement. They inherited this trust from past generations, who founded the paper and nurtured it, and kept it going through times of problems and crisis. Their solemn trust is to pass it on to future generations, but are they going to do that?”
The Workers’ Morning Star No1 - the journalists’ strike bulletin - declares boldly: “The NUJ chapel is fighting to save the Morning Star from dynastic dictatorship for the movement to which it truly belongs.” Excellent. Only by placing the Star at the service of the whole of the left can the whole of the left be drawn into the struggle to ensure the survival of ‘their’ paper ... if it truly is their paper. But far from returning the Star to normality, this would in fact be a new departure.
Both sides in the CPB leadership claim to stand by the discredited BRS - Hicks, Rosser and Corry defend it against “sectarians” who believe that life exists outside the Labour Party. Griffiths and Haylett fight to save it from the grip of the “paranoid” and the “power-hungry”. Nevertheless, there may be a significant difference between, on the one hand, a failing dynasty who made enemies out of just about everyone who worked under them, who champion the anti-working class principle of “management’s right to manage”, and, on the other, those who are in the process of overthrowing that same dynasty. Rejoicing in the “oxygen of publicity” (Haylett), and rebelling against the “whole series of lies and smears that ... we were getting quite used to in the CPB” (Griffiths) is a step in the right direction - no matter how far the journey.
Neither side is seeking to restore party control of the paper; both are ostensibly striving to save the paper for “the movement”. Let us take them at their word. The civil war in the ranks of the ‘official communist’ CPB, if it does not kill the Morning Star, is an opportunity for genuine communists to fight to open the pages of the Star to all political trends and shades on the left. Openness and pluralism will be our slogan for the forthcoming PPPS general meeting.