No to workers' representation

Lawrence Parker reports from the June 12 AGM of the People's Press Printing Society (the body that owns and produces the Morning Star)

James Eagle, chief sub-editor of the Morning Star, good-naturedly joshed with CPGB supporters selling the Weekly Worker at the June 12 London AGM of the People's Press Printing Society (the body that owns and produces the Star). Looking at our description of the "Morning Star's CPB congress", he said that, yes, he did have Communist Party of Britain general secretary Robert Griffiths firmly under control. His ironic demeanour, of course, implied exactly the opposite.

Indeed, this was said after a meeting in which CPB concerns threw a shadow over just about everything. So what exactly does it mean to refer to the "Morning Star's CPB"?

The roots lie in the factional struggles of the 'official' CPGB in the 1980s. In 1983, then editor Tony Chater began to treat the paper as his factional property, calling the Communist Party an "outside body". The factions that then coalesced around Chater, becoming the Communist Campaign Group, and subsequently the CPB, were thus led by the paper, its dull, 'broad', trade unionist character putting the seal on the CPB's own miserable reformism. In the 'official' CPGB, the Morning Star was reformist because the party was reformist. In the origins of the CPB, and its subsequent development as a (poorly drilled) foot soldier of the paper, things are much less clear-cut.

Unfortunately, PPPS secretary and treasurer Tony Briscoe despicably lied about this history to the AGM, stating that the Daily Worker (the Star's forerunner) was an organ of the CPGB during the 1930s, but "ceased to be so during the 1940s". Of course, the CPGB made a number of business arrangements for its paper down the years, but this was not to foster independence from the party. How do deadpan reports of 1950s show trials in the 'people's democracies' and the manner in which party divisions over Hungary spilled into the Daily Worker in 1956 exactly show off the paper's then 'independence'?

As sections of the CPB have widened their definition of what constitutes 'left unity', this has meant a less passive attitude to the Star's content. Editor John Haylett, a member of the 'innovators' faction keen to get into bed with Respect and the Scottish Socialist Party, has been using the paper (sometimes in Aesopic fashion) to voice the line of his faction, clashing with the Star's more traditional 'unity' line - a line than can usually only be drawn with the Labour Party in mind. As a result, the paper has also become more open to other voices than previously.

Some of this hidden debate spilled out into the open at the AGM, where Haylett defended the paper's editorialising for George Galloway after Max Levitus had, from the floor, called such an approach a "disgrace" to ordinary Labour Party workers. Although Levitus, like many others among the 49 attendees, is not a CPB member, these are essentially CPB debates. This was made even clearer when Levitus accused Haylett of spiking letters from pro-Labour CPBer John Foster, with the editor denying that he had received such letters. Of course, Haylett, like others in the CPB minority 'innovators' faction, still has to hold out an olive branch to the hardcore pro-Labourites (both Star supporters and CPB members) in order to hold a frail ship together. So we still had dutiful references to "winning back Labour for the Labour tradition". And what a fine imperialist tradition that is, comrade Haylett.

But the real controversy came with a resolution proposed by comrade Eagle: "This meeting requests the PPPS management committee to consider permitting the NUJ chapel of the Morning Star to send one of its members, chosen in any way that the chapel sees fit, to all meetings of the management committee. This member would have observer status only, with no voting powers."

The management committee opposed this mild reform. Moving the motion, comrade Eagle said that little information from the management committee reached the newsroom and, rather more cryptically, that staff "don't know what the boundaries of reality are".

Speaking on behalf of the management, Tony Briscoe (in the puffed-up pompous manner of a mediocre Stalinist bureaucrat) gave a number of reasons why this couldn't happen: the NUJ reps would not be bound by confidentiality; there could be a conflict of interest; and other unions on site were not included in the resolution (you could of course just invite them in, along with the NUJ, Tony). Comrade Eagle, in reply, said he did not specifically "distrust" management and rebuffed Briscoe by stating that a rep could sign a confidentiality agreement and leave the room if a conflict of interest arose. He also pointed out that, for a cost of £30,000, the RMT and FBU get unelected trade union members on the management committee (without, presumably, endangering confidentiality).

From the floor, Stan Keable of the CPGB said that we should "trust the workers" on this issue. After all they demonstrate their commitment concretely by accepting a salary below union rates (journalists at the Star receive between £16,000 and £17,600). Anita Wright (CPB member) said she did not know whether to support the motion, but argued that it should not be seen in terms of pay and conditions, but as an issue of the journalists' uncertainty over "strategic editorial issues" and the paper's content (which matched up with comrade Eagle's remark around "boundaries of reality"). The motion received 14 votes for and 24 against, with five abstentions. The London votes will be aggregated with those cast in the Glasgow, Cardiff and Leeds meetings.

Unfortunately, it seems as if the PPPS management committee has not ditched the undemocratic legacy of Mary Rosser and company. It is a huge embarrassment that the PPPS has such a putrid record on workers' rights. I was told after the meeting that not all the Star's journalists and sub-editors are CPB members (although it is "unlikely" that the editor or deputy editor would ever be non-CPBers). Obviously, it must be strange to join a 'paper of the labour movement', which in technical terms is completely separate from the CPB, and then find that some of the content is being decided 'elsewhere'. The management committee obviously does not want the lid lifted on these 'confidential' matters - quite in accord with the CPB's concern to keep its own factional wars under wraps.

In replying to comrade Eagle, Tony Briscoe said that the PPPS was not a "workers' cooperative". If workers are regarded as mere employees, then perhaps it is not surprising that the Star NUJ chapel also moved another resolution proposing that the management committee set the union minimum of £26,000 as a "salary target". Although the committee had declined to take a position on this, Briscoe basically said that the PPPS could not afford it. Nevertheless, in London the motion was passed by the narrowest of margins.

Of course, NUJ chapel members are just being good trade unionists, but we might point out to the PPPS/CPB that if you ran your paper as a genuine communist collective, where the needs of the party come first, then you would not be facing such problems, so typical of capitalist concerns. Rather like your management technique, comrades.