Haylett appeal stalemate

Morning Star strike

A last minute change in venue for the appeal hearing for sacked Morning Star editor John Haylett on Saturday March 14 failed to escape the mass picket organised in support of his immediate reinstatement by striking Star journalists and their supporters.

Two weeks earlier, when the management committee met in the Morning Star offices in Ardleigh Road, Islington, they had to run the gauntlet of a 150-strong picket. Management committee member Francis Wilcox, the one remaining Rosserite on the so-called Communist Party of Britain political committee, who had voted for Haylett’s suspension and dismissal, came in for a lot of stick after the meeting. Mary Rosser, chief executive of the Peoples Press Printing Society, the cooperative which owns the Morning Star, left the building with a police escort.

This time the picket outside the Star building was down to 100 people, but this was because another 60 were gathered outside the new venue - the Great Northern Hotel at Kings Cross station - the place where Arthur Scargill incubated his Socialist Labour Party in 1994-95.

SLP national committee member John Hendy QC, who the National Union of Journalists retains as its standing counsel, presented the first part of Haylett’s appeal case. He detailed at length the many procedural flaws in the Star management’s actions. These, he argued, rendered the disciplinary action invalid, and the management committee majority so “tainted” that they could not fairly hear the appeal. Haylett’s full statement in his defence was not presented, nor the NUJ’s full arguments, so the appeal process was not completed.

The management committee majority, visibly shaken by the authoritative and weighty procedural arguments, implicitly accepted they were “tainted” by voting in favour of Hendy’s proposal to appoint a “different appellate body”, namely an independent three-person committee to be agreed by both sides. However, this was only agreed conditional on a return to work by the strikers with Haylett still suspended on full pay, terms which are certainly unacceptable to the strikers.

Voting was eight to five, with no-one changing sides since the February 28 meeting. John Friel was absent again, and Haylett could not vote on his own case. The five for Haylett were Phil Davies, Alec Falconer MEP, Anne Green, Carolyn Jones and Gareth Miles. The latter had travelled from South Wales to Ardleigh Road on Saturday morning, evidently having not been informed about the change in venue. An attempt to remove Carolyn Jones’ vote, on the grounds she had been a member of the disciplinary sub-committee from which she had resigned in disgust, was thwarted early in the meeting. The eight against Haylett were Joan Bellamy, Terry Herbert (who is not a CPB member, as I mistakenly reported in a previous issue), Pat Hicks, Annie Marjoram, Kumar Murshid (although he reportedly left the meeting before the vote), John Thompson, George Wake and Francis Wilcox.

An amendment for the “status quo ante” - meaning Haylett would be reinstated as editor while the appeal proceeds - was rejected by the same votes. Thus neither side was willing to see a return to work unless their candidate for editor was in control. This was not because of the rights and wrongs of industrial relations procedures, however. If publication of the Star is resumed, editorial control of the paper will be a key weapon for influencing shareholders in the impending power struggle for control of the PPPS.

So Haylett remains sacked, but on full pay, while his appeal is unresolved. The management committee has authorised its three officers - secretary Mary Rosser, chair George Wake and vice-chair Pat Hicks - to act on its behalf in handling the dispute. Management committee and NUJ representatives will be engaging in “preliminary consultations” at Acas on March 19. Although the NUJ regards binding arbitration as “inappropriate” until the appeal has been heard, this is precisely what the management committee is mobilising support for, asking top trade union officials and Labour MPs to put pressure on the NUJ.

CPB executive (March 14-15)

The second bi-monthly meeting of the new CPB executive committee revealed a consolidation of the new leadership of Robert Griffiths backed by John Haylett and Richard Maybin (who missed ousting Mike Hicks as general secretary two years ago by only one vote). Before the November 1997 congress Mike Hicks had held out against a hostile political committee by virtue of a wafer thin majority in his favour on the 30-strong executive committee. This time the voting was 19 to six against the Rosser-Hicks ‘North Korean’ family dynasty, with five members absent, mostly if not all from their side.

The weakening of the Rosser-Hicks faction had been foreshadowed at two meetings in the North West district, where it had been boasting of support. After losing out at a North West district CPB membership aggregate, Rosser went to Manchester on March 11 to address the Morning Star readers and supporters group. On previous occasions, when appealing for donations, she had praised the hard work and selfless dedication of Morning Star journalists. This time she rubbished them as lazy, irresponsible youths who did not care about the paper. This backfired, and Haylett was backed by around 40 votes to six. To date, every mobilisation of rank and file Star supporters has been on the Griffiths-Haylett side. Rosser and Hicks have yet to show us a crowd. The only remaining question mark is over the CPB’s Yorkshire district.

Hicks and Rosser have disgraced and isolated themselves through their inept bureaucratic style and by their disgusting championing of “management’s right to manage”.  Hicks certainly has learned the knack of making personal enemies. On the March 14 Ardleigh Road picket, his crude personal accusations provoked the anger of Gary Davis, once a worker at the Star, who burst into an impromptu public denunciation of some of Hicks’ sins. When the Weekly Worker rang Hicks for his version of events, we got a counterproductive snub. “I have nothing to say to you. You have told lies, calling GPMU branch committee members my ‘bodyguards’.” Well, Mike, we don’t take offence so easily. This dispute is political, not personal. If you write your point of view, we will publish it accurately - and, of course, criticise it.

At the executive committee, CPB members on the Morning Star management committee were told to toe the party line, and that the “emergence of an anti-Party grouping will have to be challenged.” The charges laid against Haylett by the management committee were declared to be “anti-party, anti-Morning Star and anti-trade union”.  Disciplinary action against Joan Bellamy, Mike Hicks, Pat Hicks, Mary Rosser, George Wake and Francis Wilcox now seem certain to follow.

All CPB organisations and members are being called upon to campaign for Haylett’s reinstatement, and to assist preparations for a special general meeting of PPPS shareholders. The plan of action, as outlined to the pickets at Ardleigh Road by ex-TUC president and CPB member Ken Gill, is to requisition a special general meeting with over 800 signatures (2% of all PPPS shareholders), for the purpose of removing unwanted members from the management committee. The remaining “healthy” members can legitimately run the affairs of the society, and coopt fresh blood if they wish. New members can be elected at a subsequent annual shareholders meeting.

Scab Star

The campaign against the strike is being run from Mike Hicks’ base in the GPMU - the trade union with two chapels at the Morning Star. “Unions, staff and friends” of the paper have launched the Save our Star Campaign, and so far produced two issues of their paper, called … Morning Star. This is a scab paper which campaigns against the journalists’ strike and unashamedly argues management’s case. Its claim to legitimacy is the complaint that NUJ members constitute a minority of those employed at the Star, and the NUJ chapel “has walked out without a single meeting of all the chapels involved.” This is the reactionary method of using the ‘silent majority’ to suffocate any militant struggle.

Scab Star No1 accuses the NUJ of not “recognising the democracy of the PPPS and fighting for their member within it.” So workers should not strike against any ‘democratic’ management? This gives us a taste of the kind of ‘socialism’ we would obtain if we followed the lead of the ‘North Korean’ dynasty.

The NUJ is also defying “widespread calls from across the labour movement for the strike to be brought to an end through conciliation.” The strikers should not dismiss this claim, but should recognise it as management’s strategy. The NUJ is undoubtedly under pressure to disregard the strikers’ insistence on Haylett’s reinstatement as a precondition for talks. However, this is not healthy pressure from the left, from rank and file militant workers, socialist and communist activists, but unhealthy pressure from above, from trade union general secretaries and left Labour MPs. The management committee is claiming support for their line of binding arbitration without reinstating Haylett not only from the GPMU but also from the likes of Rodney Bickerstaffe and Bill Morris - despite the latter having his name on the “role of honour” of those who have “sent messages of concern/support” or donated to the strike fund.

A mealy-mouthed statement of the Campaign Group of Labour MPs reproduced in the scab Star confirms this. Replacing “previously expressed individual views in letters or early day motions” - ie several letters of support for the strikers as well as Livingstone’s early day motion against - it vacuously urges “all those involved in the dispute to find an early settlement”. This is the kind of ‘solidarity’ we can do without - so-called left MPs whose desire for unity with each other overrides their support for workers on strike, who put their collective struggle for a place within Blair’s New Labour before any principle. This is real sectarianism, putting sectional or group interests before class interests. New Labour sectarianism.

Scab Star No1, curiously, defends the reformist parliamentary programme of the CPB, the British road to socialism ... from the CPB itself. “Shareholders have backed calls for the editorial line of the paper to be that of the BRS, the programme of the Communist Party,” it says. Nevertheless, “Shareholders have guarded their rights. When the [‘official’ - IF] Communist Party of Great Britain tried to force the management committee to follow its orders and cut the paper’s links with the British Road, it failed because the shareholders wanted to protect the political links but resisted all attempts to run the paper from the HQ of the CPGB.”

Issue No2 continues, “Shareholders have guarded their rights over the years, resisting attempts to steal the paper away for the exclusive use of the Eurocommunists ...” This refers to Tony Chater and Mary Rosser snatching the paper away from Eurocommunist control, but also from Party control. In backing this declaration of independence, unfortunately shareholders were being duped. As is now obvious - but as we pointed out at the time - they were merely handing control of the paper from one opportunist clique to another.

Reforging the CPGB today, overcoming the division of the left into the myriad sects, requires junking the tried, tested and failed parliamentary reformism of the BRS, and developing a revolutionary programme in its place. If the Morning Star is to play any useful role in this, its columns should be made available for the expression of all shades of opinion on the left. As argued in the CPGB Provisional Central Committee’s March 11 letter to the CPB, “On this basis, all sections of the left could be drawn into the immediate struggle to save the paper from extinction, and then to sustain and develop it as a weapon in the class struggle.”

Ian Farrell