No case to answer
Morning Star strike
On Wednesday April 1 the independent tribunal to hear the appeal of sacked Morning Star editor John Haylett’s met for the first and last time amidst signs that management was throwing in the towel. Their chosen representative on the tribunal, Lloyd Wilkinson of the Cooperative Union, proved “not available” throughout the week since he was nominated, and management told Acas to supply whoever they liked to fill his seat. Clearly they were not putting up a fight.
The non-availability of management’s nominee could be just another example of Rosser’s ‘gross industrial incompetence,’ but it is hard to believe he was not contacted before being named. However, I have heard that Lloyd Wilkinson has a reputation for fairness and good judgement, and it seems much more likely he has told the management majority they were in the wrong and he would not want to sully his reputation by appearing on their side.
Predictably, the tribunal was unanimous that Haylett had “no case to answer,” after which the NUJ called on management to end its “vindictive” campaign. The decision is not binding and Acas talks resumed on April 2.
Whether the management committee officers delegated to handle the dispute will accept the tribunal’s view and reinstate Haylett remains to be seen. If not, we shall have to examine the viability of the strikers’ plan to take the matter before PPPS shareholders.
Rossers’s empty threat
Production of The Workers’ Morning Star, the weekly tabloid published by the journalists striking since February 25 in defence of John Haylett, was delayed on March 26 by legal threats from the management’s solicitors. The striker’s tabloid was supposedly “passing itself off” as the Morning Star.
This charge brings to mind the launch of the Daily Star and Tony Chater’s silly challenge in the courts on the grounds that it might be mistaken for the Morning Star. Only by “a moron in a hurry,” was the judge’s curt reply to the then editor, which seems equally true in the present case.
The Morning Star has for years been printed daily by the Socialist Workers Party’s East End Offset. A form of collaboration of which neither side is proud. Socialist Worker never boasts of the practical assistance it gives the ‘Stalinists’, nor the Star that it is being printed by ‘Trots’. Indeed, this was never a form of solidarity or left unity, as can be seen by the SWP’s refusal to print the strikers’ TWMS. Curiously East End Offset was able to print the Morning Star every day right up to February 25, but when asked to print an eight page weekly tabloid for the strikers - and it has been asked several times - it “did not have space.” What communications passed between the Star management and the SWP, one can only guess at.
The NUJ printed the first two, A4 size, issues of the TWMS. No3, the first tabloid, was printed by Newsfax - incidentally, a firm which we are told does not recognise unions, although it employs some union members. The strikers quite rightly did not make this an issue, but were concerned to get the paper out quickly and at a reasonable cost. Star management’s threats successfully scared off Newsfax, who decided not to print No4. Fortunately an alternative printer was found at short notice and it eventually went ahead.
A second threat of “defamation” was aimed directly at the strikers. But as no concrete example was cited, this seems to be so much hot air. However, the strikers are now being very careful what they write. For example, this week ‘Ardleigh’s Diary’ will be replaced by ‘Kingsland Diary’.
This is not the first time this management has threatened to use the bosses’ courts and laws to settle a dispute within the working class movement. Nor the first time they bottled out. Rosser and Chater tried it on just before the 1992 general election. This was an attempt to halt publication of the CPGB Provisional Central Committee’s Daily Worker, which it had relaunched for the election campaign and as a pointer to the future. We were threatened with an injunction which could have led to imprisonment. We published anyway.
To emphasise our point of view, a team of Daily Worker supporters occupied the Morning Star offices at Ardleigh Road for a couple of hours. This protest action was used to legitimise a management committee decision, still in force to this day, banning the CPGB and the Weekly Worker from the columns of the Morning Star - something we hope can be reversed in the near future. Weekly Worker readers will be pleased to learn that no such ban exists in the TWMS, which carried a solidarity message to the strikers from the Provisional Central Committee on March 28. A Weekly Worker advertisement has been placed this week.
Bob Pitt, editor of the discussion journal What Next?, has made an ass of himself in his letter to the TWMS (March 28) by taking sides against the strikers. “If the sectarian drivel that fills the pages of The Workers’ Morning Star is an indication of the political line that the Star will adopt if your side wins, such an outcome would be a disaster for a broad-based labour movement daily”, he writes.
True, Morning Star journalists, some of whom are in New Labour and some in the so-called Communist Party of Britain, tend to display a sectarian attitude towards anyone who is to their left or does not believe New Labour and the British parliament are the route to human liberation. But this is not the criterion by which we distinguish between the management committee majority and the striking journalists, nor between the waning Hicks-Rosser faction and the ascendant Griffiths-Haylett-Maybin faction in the CPB leadership. Unfortunately both sides share the same ‘broad labour movement’ Labourite sectarianism as Bob Pitt himself.
Comrade Pitt should explain what he means by “sectarian”. His own sectarianism appears to consist in putting the political criterion of loyalty to Blair’s New Labour Party before solidarity with workers on strike. As the SLP’s Simon Harvey commented last week, “in comrade Pitt’s world, life outside the Labour Party is akin to death” (Weekly Worker March 26). Yet Blair is in the process of de-Labourising Labour, of transforming Labour from a “bourgeois workers’ party” (Lenin’s description) into something quite different. This is causing stresses and strains to the whole of the pro-Labour left, including both leadership factions in the CPB, with their programmatic allegiance to Labour as the vehicle for socialism. In this Leninist sense, both CPB factions write sectarian (Labourite) drivel.
Comrade Pitt’s Labourite dogma prevents him from seeing the real, living difference between a bureaucratic management proclaiming “management’s right to manage” and striking journalists defending their rights as workers; and, within the CPB, between a bureaucratic clique which has been ruling the roost and has just been overthrown, and the rebellious victims of bureaucratic abuse who have just succeeded in ousting their former persecutors. On the face of it, the politics are the same: both sides appear wedded to the British road to socialism programme. But those having to struggle for their rights are the ones most open to learning the lessons of openness and democracy. Bureaucratic abuse flourishes in secret, behind closed doors, where differences of opinion are illegitimate, where certain points of view are ‘out of order’.
The parliamentary road to socialism is a programme which generates the curtailment of open discussion. It calls forth bureaucratic centralism and blind loyalty, not democratic centralism and conscious discipline. Yet in the crisis it produces, both sides are not equal. Like all those in struggle, the Morning Star strikers, as well as CPBers, throw off bureaucratic restrictions. In these conditions, they are more receptive than usual to communist lessons. The outbreak of civil war in the CPB therefore presents an opportunity which should not be missed.
Instead of recognising the significance of struggle as a catalyst in the development of consciousness, comrade Pitt is merely applying his sectarian Labourite dogma as if nothing was happening - and swallowing Rosser’s hypocritical Scargill-baiting to boot. Like that arch-careeist Ken Livingstone, he is taking the wrong side of the picket line.
Reclaim Our Rights
Star strikers were upbeat at the SLP initiated Reclaim Our Rights conference on March 28. They were not visible amongst the range of left leafleters and paper sellers, but had their own table inside, where Tony Benn had himself photographed alongside them. They were in their element amongst rank and file union delegates and representatives of all the militant struggles currently in progress. Sales were healthy, and the Star workers had the gleam of commitment in their eye.
Mike Ambrose, Morning Star parliamentary correspondent and the strikers’ press officer, told the conference that their conflict was a “plain industrial dispute,” meaning it is not political. This is how the strikers, and the CPB leadership, want the dispute portrayed. However, he then proceeded to contradict himself, pointing out that there was more to it than “plain industrial.”
There is a “partially dynastic element”, he said, referring to the longstanding strivings of marriage partners Mike Hicks and Mary Rosser - appropriately dubbed the ‘North Koreans’ - to install Rosser’s son-in-law Paul Corry as Star editor. Rosser already has her daughter employed at the Star. Furthermore, the actions of a “rogue Labour politician” - ie, Ken Livingstone - showed a “hidden agenda”, and Ambrose warned against backing him for London mayor. Socialist Action, the undercover allies of Livingstone and the Hicks-Rosser CPB faction, were present in the conference, but did not speak.
On the subject of political openness, the strikers may find it instructive to compare their own paper with The Socialist, weekly paper of the Socialist Party led by Peter Taaffe.
The Socialist (March 27) carries a centre page spread on ‘The battle for workers’ rights’ by SP industrial organiser Bill Mullins, aimed at the 600 ROR delegates. It mentions the “six national unions and dozens of regional and branch bodies” backing the conference, but omits to inform its readers that Arthur Scargill’s SLP initiated it. The consequence of concealing this vital political fact is that The Socialist cannot educate its readers about the positive and negative features of the SLP’s involvement - nor describe the weight or significance of the other various political forces involved. Instead, there is bland truism, useless for practical purposes: “When the working class moves into mass action in defence of its interests then we will see that the anti-union laws will be again pushed aside.”
In Mullins’ historical sketch of the struggle for workers’ rights since 1980, the only left political organisation given credit for having a role is, predictably, Militant (the Socialist Party’s predecessor) for leading the “mass illegal action” of the anti-poll tax struggle. Credit where credit is due, but only for oneself.
Similarly, TWMS (March 28) puts trade union rights on the front page. However the conference itself rates no mention, thus avoiding the ‘sectarian’ necessity of describing who launched it. However, space is found in the short front page piece to promote the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions, because it is the creature of the CPB. Both CPB factions have a finger in the LCDTU pie. Its chairman, Kevin Halpin of the Griffiths-Haylett-Maybin faction, advises the TUC that “asking for little shows weakness and gets less”. Its secretary George Wake, chairman of the management committee of the Peoples Press Printing Society, the cooperative which owns the Morning Star, is a signed up member of the Hicks-Rosser dynasty, with his own son David employed at the Star. Every week Wake has the mickey taken out of him as the strikers’ fund columnist “Arfur Wake”.
As is unfortunately customary, in the ROR conference itself, delegates have to guess what political tendency speakers represent. Everyone appears as representing some union organisation or the other, which tells you nothing or little about their politics. So the real discussion between different organised tendencies in the workers’ movement goes on in veiled form. Rank and file militant workers are mobilised behind leaders with shadowy political allegiances and hidden agendas. Livingstone and Socialist Action are not alone in this.
This poisonous culture of shame and secrecy about political differences must be ended through a struggle for openness. That is why the CPGB Provisional Central Committee has made the call for the columns of the Morning Star to be opened up to all shades of opinion on the left, making it truly “the paper of the left.”