Morning Star strike

Reluctant Griffiths forced to debate

The Communist Party of Britain held a rare public meeting on March 5. According to district secretary Anita Halpin, it was the CPB’s first in London “for a very long time”. Despite its title, ‘How to stop New Labour,’ it in fact served as a rally to support one side in the factional war in progress in the CPB - and a pitiful mobilisation it was, given that “the very survival of the Morning Star” (Griffiths), on which the future of the CPB depends, is at stake. Attendance rose gradually throughout the evening from an initial 28 to, eventually, just over 50, with the Hicks-Rosser-Corry faction not showing a single face let alone raising a voice.

Perhaps I should remind Weekly Worker readers that public meetings are, in general, dangerous for the CPB. There is a risk of real debate, of comrades thinking for themselves and challenging the unreal, and nowadays ridiculous, dogmas of ‘revolutionary’ reformism. The fragile unity of the CPB, protected from uncomfortable truths by the soothing hand of the Morning Star editor, may be easily shattered. Therefore the CPB only risks public meetings when the differences endemic to such an opportunist organisation inevitably erupt into open conflict. Then public discussion becomes unavoidable. Suddenly, we are offered the rare opportunity of at least a glimpse at what CPB comrades really think - an opportunity not to be missed!

Instead of turning the meeting over to a political discussion on how the Star came to be in danger of extinction and how to save it, as would be logical, general secretary Griffiths pretended he was addressing a routine meeting criticising the New Labour government. Only after a turgid hour of this did he reluctantly raise the Morning Star dispute, because “there may well be some discussion comrades want to have on that question.” In other words, CPB members wanting to confront the schism in their organisation is a bit of a nuisance.

At question time the proposal was made that, since the Morning Star portrayed itself as “the paper of the left”, its columns should be opened up to “all shades of opinion on the left”. In this way the whole of the left could be mobilised in support of the Star. Unfortunately, the proposal did not meet with the approval of the platform. Claiming the Star’s letters page under Haylett’s editorship “stands in stark contrast to the Chater regime”, Griffiths doubted whether the features pages should be opened up to the kind of “views which sow disunity and confusion, to absurd, inaccurate gossip”. The foolish example, our verbatim report of Ken Livingstone’s early day motion against John Haylett and the Morning Star strike (Weekly Worker March 5). We believe this sort of factual information is needed by workers, not least in order to help them identify Livingstone as an opportunist and careerist. Patronisingly, Griffiths thinks this sort of information, freely available to journalists and ‘leaders’ of all kinds, will divide and confuse his rank and file. Perhaps he is right.

Far from seeking discussion, Griffiths tried to dampen it down. “I shall continue to do everything I can do - not necessarily things that can be discussed in a public meeting - but everything possible to help to bring a principled solution to this dispute which will ensure that the Morning Star comes out again.” The role of CPB members, in his mind, is that of an unthinking rank and file, to be mobilised as voting fodder when called upon - nothing more.

Not able to identify the political causes of the conflict in the CPB, Griffiths merely complained that the suspension and sacking of editor John Haylett, a member of the CPB political committee, was carried out, not only “in a disgraceful fashion, tearing up trade union agreements,” but also “in an almost clandestine way, with none of the consultation that should take place between communists and comrades before taking such a drastic decision which anyone could have foreseen would place the existence of the Morning Star in jeopardy.”

Whereas the overriding duty of the management committee of the Peoples Press Printing Society, the cooperative which owns the Morning Star, is “to ensure that the paper comes out every day”, the striking journalists, on the other hand, “are carrying out their duty to defend their rights and to defend the rights of working people everywhere”.

Mother of the Morning Star NUJ chapel Amanda Kendal waxed eloquent about the change which has come over the CPB, which has “altered out of all recognition” since Rob Griffiths replaced Mike Hicks as general secretary. “We are now seeing leadership where we did not see it before,” she says. Paradoxically, she also praises the CPB for “not interfering,” for “not trying to take over the dispute” from the NUJ. The CPB’s “solidarity and support has been magnificent.”

Leadership of a kind has, of course, been given to the Star strikers. But it has been trade unionist, not communist, leadership. Treating the conflict as a mere industrial dispute, holding the paper to its disastrous pro-New Labour path, even if Haylett wins his reinstatement, means, is sooner rather than later, condemning it to death.

Ian Farrell