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The Crisis at the Morning Star

Martin Sullivan

ON 25 FEBRUARY journalists at the Morning Star newspaper began an indefinite strike, an unprecedented event which attracted attention even from the capitalist press. Twelve of the paper’s fifteen journalists voted in favour of industrial action, which was called in response to the suspension (and subsequent sacking) of the Star’s editor John Haylett.

The strikers had the official backing of the National Union of Journalists, and received sympathetic coverage in the Labour weekly Tribune, while prominent figures such as Tony Benn and Dennis Skinner supported the call for Haylett’s reinstatement. Among leading left MPs only Ken Livingstone opposed the strike.

The strikers claimed that this was a straightforward management-worker issue, involving a clear case of victimisation. Haylett’s sacking by the management committee of the Peoples Press Printing Society (PPPS), the body which controls the Star, was supposedly a tit-for-tat reaction to the earlier removal of Mike Hicks as general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), Hicks being the partner of PPPS chief executive Mary Rosser.

Others of us, however, would claim that action should have been against Haylett long ago – for example, when the Star supported the invitation of a notorious anti-semite to speak at an Anti-Racist Alliance demonstration. There are, moreover, important political issues behind the present dispute, and it is on these issues that the labour movement should take sides.

The sacking of Mike Hicks as CPB general secretary, and his replacement by Rob Griffiths, in fact represented a sectarian shift by the party leadership away from the traditional orientation towards the Labour Party – a development, incidentally, which has no basis in any decision at the last CPB congress. Symptomatic of this shift was the CPB political committee’s decision to open discussions with Arthur Scargill, whose Socialist Labour Party (SLP) is notorious for its sectarian attitude to Labour. If a lash-up between the SLP and the Griffiths-Haylett wing of the CPB were to take control of the PPPS, this would signal the end of the Morning Star as a paper of the broad labour movement.

Whatever their faults, the Rosser-Hicks element do favour a broad labour movement orientation, and deserve critical support against the sectarians. At the PPPS Annual General Meeting in June, therefore, or at an earlier special meeting if one is called, shareholders should cast their votes accordingly.