Management retreats

Morning Star strike

After more than three weeks of strike action by Morning Star journalists, backed by swelling support among readers and supporters both inside and outside the so-called Communist Party of Britain, management has been forced to step back from its intransigent position of no talks without a return to work.

At the aborted hearing for sacked editor John Haylett on March 14, the management committee majority implicitly acknowledged their unfitness to hear the appeal. On the CPB executive committee the same weekend the Hicks-Rosser faction was routed and told to toe the line. Disciplinary action within the CPB seems certain to follow.

No3 of The workers’ Morning Star, the strikers’ publication, has expanded from an occasional four page A4 bulletin to a weekly eight page tabloid with a 6,000 print run. It is being distributed nationally via CPB branches, Morning Star readers and supporters groups and bulk orders from national trade unions. This will have shaken the confidence of the Hicks-Rosser faction. Even if they hold out against Haylett on the management committee, their fate seems already sealed by the evident balance of forces amongst the rank and file shareholders of the Peoples Press Printing Society - the cooperative which owns the Morning Star - and in all districts of the CPB. If the “unhealthy elements” are not removed by a specially requisitioned PPPS general meeting, they can expect to be outnumbered on the management committee after the annual general meeting in June.

That is why, after a week of intransigence at Acas, on March 24 management committee officers Mary Rosser, George Wake and Pat Hicks, who have been delegated responsibility to handle the dispute since March 14, eventually agreed to the formation of an independent committee of persons acceptable to both sides to hear Haylett’s appeal without a return to work - a crucial victory for the strikers. The appeal tribunal members proposed are Alf Parrish of the GPMU (which also has members employed at the Star) as chairperson, Professor Keith Ewing of the Institute of Employment Rights as the NUJ’s choice, and Lloyd Wilkinson of the Cooperative Union as management’s choice. A decision is to be reached within a fortnight, probably sooner.

If Haylett’s appeal is won, the strike will be over. Mary Rosser’s March 16 circular to trade union general secretaries makes clear that “in order to ensure the survival of the paper” the PPPS “will accept the results of such a body.”

However, this should not be mistaken for binding arbitration, which the strikers, wisely, still refuse to accept. If the appeal is lost, even at the hands of this mutually agreed tribunal, they can be expected to fight on for reinstatement, just as they would have if the management committee itself had rejected the appeal. A return to work for CPB level wages under the discredited ‘North Korean’ dynasty of pseudo-communists is out of the question. Better to get a real salary from a confessed capitalist.

As we pointed out last week (Weekly Worker March 19), the Griffiths-Haylett faction of the CPB would be crazy to allow the Hicks-Rosser faction editorial control of the Morning Star in the campaign for the allegiance of PPPS shareholders. The real dispute - the faction fight in the CPB for control of the Star - will surely be settled at the forthcoming PPPS general meeting.

Committee to Save the Morning Star

As one who has proposed, with the CPGB Provisional Central Committee, that all sections of the left be drawn into the fight to save the Morning Star from extinction - by opening its columns to all shades of opinion on the left - I was disappointed not to have been invited onto the Committee to Save the Morning Star which has just announced its existence in a circular letter from the same address as the strike office.

Placing the blame for “non-publication” of the paper “solely” with those PPPS management committee members who accepted Rosser’s dossier as the basis for a charge of gross industrial misconduct against Haylett, the circular claims “a torrent of protest from a large number of trade unions, Labour MPs, readers and supporters groups, the Communist Party of Britain, the Communist Party of Scotland and many individual readers.”

“The management committee majority,” it continues, “acted without due consideration of the predictable consequences of their disregard for established procedures and natural justice. They should have known that an editorial workforce that proclaims and defends justice in the workplace on a daily basis would not tamely accept such an injustice on its own doorstep.”

The circular includes a carefully worded petition form that must be signed by 2% (about 800) of PPPS shareholders so as to requisition a special general meeting under rule 8 of the association. Since PPPS rules “do not allow a special meeting to instruct the management committee over its actions,” the purpose of the meeting is, under rule 9, “to remove those management committee members implicated in the original attack on John Haylett,” namely Joan Bellamy, Terry Herbert, Pat Hicks, Anni Marjoram, George Wake and Francis Wilcox.

The workers’ Morning Star

Both sides in the dispute are producing their own propaganda. The management majority’s position is argued in the scab Morning Star which I reviewed last week - the poorly presented bulletin of the Save OurStar Campaign, produced by “unions, staff and friends of the Morning Star”. In opposition, the Griffiths-Haylett faction has its The workers’ Morning Star - the strikers’ newssheet. Interestingly, hiding the CPB’s civil war behind the facade of an industrial dispute means that in TWMS the CPB appears only in the form of advertisements.

Nothing is told of the CPB’s executive committee debates and decisions on the crucial weekend of March 14-15, no information about which EC members took the side of the strikers and which did not. Far from explaining the point of view of the EC majority, the Griffiths-Haylett faction, or refuting the view of the minority, the Hicks-Rosser faction, even the decisions themselves are not reported. Readers are left guessing, groping between the lines in a vain attempt to establish who is who, what is what, and why.

It is obvious that the sacking of Haylett was an expression of the struggle between two factions in the leadership of the CPB, as a result of which “the labour movement has been deprived of vital information and comment, together with a forum for advertising events and messages” (TWSM No3, March 21).

The Morning Star classifies itself as the paper of “the left” or “the labour movement.” This ‘internal’ CPB struggle which determines the fate of the Star affects us all. Yet it is treated as a private matter, a ‘members only’ question.

This lack of openness about political differences will not do. Lasting unity cannot be built by concealing differences, ostrich fashion. This only produces weak, superficial unity. It is precisely this method which has produced the present crisis - a sudden outburst onto the public scene of a faction fight which has been festering behind closed doors for years. What it needs is the light of day.

Revolutionary communists must fight for their ideas in front of the working class, so that the working class can learn how to liberate itself. Parliamentary reformists and trade union bureaucrats, on the other hand, ultimately only require workers to passively vote. The CPB’s ‘revolutionary’ reformist programme, the British road to socialism, the basic cause of ‘official’ communism’s long decline and liquidation, also underlies the paucity of perestroika at the Star. Open polemic is the way to sort it out.

The Star strikers are surely not fighting to hand the paper over from one clique to another. Yet by limiting their arguments to the industrial relations question, by covering their eyes and blocking their ears to the political conflict of which their dispute is only the manifestation, they are certain to produce precisely that unhappy result.

Left unity?

The Socialist Campaign Group’s bland statement urging “all those involved in the dispute to find an early settlement,” claimed to replace “previously expressed individual views and early day motions” - ie messages of solidarity with the strikers from MPs Jeremy Corbyn (who joined the picket line on the first day), Harry Barnes, Tony Benn, Harry Cohen, John Cryer, Dennis Skinner, etc, and Livingstone’s motion attacking the strike.

Livingstone’s hostility to the strike reflects what Star parliamentary correspondent Mike Ambrose, who has had the job of tracking him for decades, calls “close political links with those associated with the Trotskyite faction Socialist Action. Two of its closest allies are on the Morning Star management committee. Chief executive Mary Rosser has relied on their support in her campaign to sack editor John Haylett” (TWMS No3, March 21).

Socialist Action, one of the remaining descendants of Tariq Ali’s once media famous International Marxist Group, is a small Trotskyite group which, in place of open politics, operates as a political sect manoeuvring deep in the Labour Party. Paradoxically, these unprincipled leeches are blocking with the Hicks-Rosser faction. Anti-Haylett management committee members Anni Marjoram and Kumar Murshid are known to have strong connections with Socialist Action - of course, they will deny being members, but then they would, wouldn’t they?  Livingstone’s personal researcher, Simon Fletcher, has a similar reputation.

Ambrose goes on to reveal the unsavoury story of the rotten compromise which Livingstone extracted from the Campaign Group to supply Star management with a modicum of succour. “If anyone is looking to Mr Livingstone for support” in industrial disputes, he says, “they should be aware of the role he has played in opposing the Morning Star journalists’ strike. Mr Livingstone became the first Labour MP under this government to put down a parliamentary motion attacking a strike.

“At a meeting of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs he agreed to withdraw his hostile motion - which had failed to gain even a single supporter - but only on the condition that left MPs did not table a motion supporting the strikers. An eyewitness talks of Mr Livingstone shaking with rage when other MPs opposed him on this issue.

“Over the years, Mr Livingstone has had an up and down relationship with the Labour left. Many were critical of him during the last days of the GLC, when he failed to fight to the finish with the Tory government. Coming to parliament, he did not immediately join the leftwing Campaign Group, but stayed out for several months while it became increasingly clear that he would not be offered a shadow ministerial post.”

Full marks, then, to Socialist Labour candidate Stan Keable, who contested Brent East against Livingstone in the 1997 general election, against the better judgement of Arthur Scargill and others who regarded him as a ‘good leftwinger’.

Blind revolutionaries

While reports of the Morning Star strike and the faction fight in the CPB which lies behind it have appeared on TV news and in such papers as The Guardian, The Independent, Observer and Financial Times, and been treated weekly in Tribune, by ex-Morning Star journalists Mike Naughton and John Blevin, the subject has been studiously ignored by the revolutionary left - ie, nothing in The Socialist, Socialist Worker and Workers Power. These comrades, it seems, refuse to believe in ghosts. Having declared ‘official communism' dead after the events of 1989-1991, they dare not acknowledge its existence for fear of damaging their present dogmas. Best look in the other direction and hope it goes away.

This living fossil is worthy of study, however, because it shows how even the most mighty, like Ozymandias, can be reduced to dust by the deadly logic of opportunist politics.

Ian Farrell