Morning Star on strike! Interview with a worker

Morning Star on strike! Interview with a worker

As staff at socialist daily newspaper, the Morning Star, prepare to go on strike this Sunday over pay and conditions, Ed Goddard from libcom.org caught up with one worker and found out about low pay and union busting in the name of "peace and socialism."

1. Can you tell us a little bit about the origins of the dispute?
Back in October last year we got an offer of £1,000 for 2010, which was probably the best in the industry in terms of percentage. The problem was that this had been hitched to a three year deal, with increases for following years capped at 4%. That's effectively a pay cut when RPI inflation is already at 5.3%, and there's very few trade unionists who'd be happy to sign away annual bargaining rights under those circumstances.

The headline £1,000 figure is also pretty misleading if you don't know what it represents, which is catchup pay because we remain some of the lowest-paid people around for the kind of work we do - £19,000 as opposed to £24,500 which is the industry average (and it’s higher in London where we’re based, around £26,000). We certainly aren't demanding that!

But the Star is actually a fairly complicated job even by normal standards. Our industrial reporter for example has to know about the situation nationwide covering millions of working people on top of normal daily news writing, while our subs need a huge range of technical knowledge because they don't have things like a picture desk, so they have to find their own pics, photoshop things themselves, deal with a really variable quality of work etc. Some staffers at the paper who also do the occasional shift elsewhere reckon it's usually an easy day compared to working here, even at the Guardian, because you're not trying to do the job of three people!

So there does need to be some sort of encouragement to keep or hire high-quality staff even if they're lefties, and we've been asking for ages now about getting something extra for anti-social hours as a gesture towards alternative forms of compensation.

This should help put in context our initial suggestion, which was £1,500 over one year, plus discussions over compensation for anti-social working hours. We were of course expecting to come down from that bargaining position and have repeatedly dropped it already (I think it's £1,000 plus some time in lieu for Sundays and bank hols atm).

However management only recently agreed to change their offer, just days before we were due to strike. After initially telling us it would be £750 for one year instead, they said they simply wouldn't talk about anti-social hours, even though it wouldn't cost them anything financially. Eight months down the line they’ve finally shifted a bit on lieu time and suggested £900 plus a percentage rise next year as a two-year deal. This incidentally is despite them having already paid our sister branch Unite (covering admin, sales, that sort of thing) the £1,000, so we know they've had the money for that as a one year deal all along.

2. Do you have any idea of the pay that the Morning Star management are on?
It's about a £5,000 difference as far as I know, but I'm not sure of the exact figures. It was originally flat across the board I think but they wanted to "provide a career structure" to encourage people to stay longer. Like treating their workforce with respect might, for example.

3. What has been the level of participation from the workers in this dispute? What are the feelings of workers on the shopfloor about these issues?
Depends on who you speak to, there's a fairly hefty split into two camps with one being pro a three year deal and the other being anti. All but two of the pro-deal group are publicly acknowledged Communist Party of Britain backers or members (and one of those two is the daughter of a member), while the other side is made up mainly of left wingers from all kinds of different groups and theoretical backgrounds. At the moment though there’s a slim but solid majority in favour of fighting our corner.

4. So where can you see these feelings going? Do you think there is a chance that this could result in staff taking strike action?
We've already been on strike, technically! Having finally confirmed with the NUJ we had this really odd 10 minute mandatory chapel meeting in the meeting room, surrounded by memorabilia from the CPB's hey-day, to initiate the strike period. We're due out for our first full day on June 20th. To their credit, most people have already pledged not to cross the picket line regardless of their personal views.

5. How have management responded to the organising activities of its staff? In ‘regular’ capitalist enterprises we often hear of management bullying in response to workers organising; has it been any different at a newspaper dedicated to “peace and socialism”?
Not really to be honest, most of the hallmarks are there, just in a different form. They're careful not to actively victimise people individually but as a group we've come under constant pressure through a variety of different tactics and the atmosphere in the office has been horrendous – even worse than it was last year.

One of the more noticeable things has been the rising number of CPB members and sympathisers in staff roles as people have come and gone over the last while, and some of those have been brought in regardless of their skills base or the views of their immediate line managers. With one, his name was included in an analysis we found of who'd vote which way in a strike ballot - before the job had even been advertised! Such behaviour amounts to packing the branch with people who are prepared to take any offer going as long as the boss tells them its a good idea - union busting, in effect, even if the shell of the branch is left intact.

Related to this, we've had huge problems because various CPB sympathisers and members in the branch have said they're in favour of passing on our internal minutes to the chief management negotiator, editor Bill Benfield, on the grounds he's an NUJ member - an idea so absurd that even Bill excuses himself from meetings because he knows we wouldn't be able to wear it. One of our members is currently under an investigation about this, so I can’t talk in full about it, but effectively their attitude means we can't have meetings in which people feel free to say their piece, because we don't know what might be given over.

Beyond that there's things like the "Rock and a Hard Place" document they've been sending out, basically painting us as a bunch of crazed greedy paper-wreckers who are going to bring down the last left-wing paper in Britain. It's very similar tactics to those used in charities, where the workforce are told "how dare you ask for decent conditions when every penny goes to starving kids/puppies/blind people." It's rubbish there and it's rubbish here, if you expect people to do a job then you have to pay them for it properly.

There's also definitely been a concerted effort to spread around this idea that we're being totally unreasonable to try and undermine us in the trade union movement, despite them being the ones who have repeatedly made no effort to compromise or even talk seriously about how to reach an amicable settlement. At the People’s Press Printing Society AGM1 meanwhile Bill officially branded us “irresponsible adventurists” to a crowd of hundreds of people – which gives you some indication of the attitudes we’ve had to deal with.

This has come on top of a number of informal complaints being made about our chapel officers which are yet to be substantiated. It's very unpleasant for them being the subject of nasty rumours like that.

Most damaging though I think has been the constant threats of going into liquidation if we go on strike - the exact same thing BA has been threatening its staff with during their recent dispute and which we have criticised in the paper itself.

6. Isn’t there a possibility that the Morning Star could go bankrupt as a result of the strike?
Over a weekly Sunday strike? Unlikely and we've been careful not to throw too heavy a body-blow at them. However what we do know is that they've been setting up for going into administration for months on the off-chance they can't beat us into submission. If you have a look on the Companies House website you'll find a company called Lextra Ltd, an "off the shelf" concern registered at Unity House (the RMT headquarters - yes, we found that interesting as well) on April 20th. This company has apparently been incorporated to try and save assets in the event they close it down.

We're not sure of the legalities of all this but it seems weird they'd need a whole new company to do that - more usually you incorporate a limited company to, well, start or restart the selling of something. If they were to restart the Star under a new company like that, it would amount to them using the absolute worst of the anti-trade union laws to break an independent trade union, which would be an astonishing fall from grace even for the CPB.

7. Has there been much contact between the Morning Star and the trade union movement about this dispute?
Interesting question.

If you define the Morning Star as its management and CPB backers, then yes, lots. They've been whinging about us for months to anyone who'll listen, sending out missives, collaring people at the various headquarters - we've even heard from some sources that CPB members have been turning up to Trades Council meetings and conferences with a specific agenda of slagging the anti-deal side off.

However if you define the Morning Star as the shop-floor professionals who actually do most of the work in putting it out, then no, not really. It's notable that pretty much nobody from the top of the tree at the TUC has asked us our side of the story. This interview is part of an attempt to rectify the problem, because to be honest we were unprepared for the sheer spite which would be thrown our way and we're only just starting to get our running shoes on to counter it.

  • 1. The People’s Press Printing Society is the readers’ co-operative which nominally owns and controls the Morning Star and its direction. In practice its activities are signed off by the paper’s Management Committee, which in turn is largely directed by four CPB stalwarts, Tony Briscoe, Bill Benfield, Liz Elkind and Carolyn Jones.

Comments

mons
Jun 17 2010 09:18

Thanks for this, it's awesome.
My friend's doing work experience there this week...

Nick Wright
Jun 17 2010 11:50

2. Do you have any idea of the pay that the Morning Star management are on?
It's about a £5,000 difference as far as I know, but I'm not sure of the exact figures
.

This is nonsense. The 'management' at the Morning Star, is a management committee elected at annual meetings of the cooperative society that owns the paper. It is unpaid, made of of trade unionists and other working people.

The paper's financing is based on a daily battle to ensure that revenue from sales, donations from supporters and share purchases in the co-operative society do not fall behind the ever rising costs of production. In order to continue readers stomp up £15,000 each month to keep the paper afloat through a fighting fund.
This has been the case since the paper was launched in 1930.
When that rough equation is destabilized the paper risks trading illegally and the members of the management committee become personally liable.

Rob Ray
Jun 17 2010 12:33

Presumably they mean paid managers (eg. the editor) rather than the management committee.

Nick Wright
Jun 17 2010 14:22

Rob Ray
If that is what is meant (paid managers rather than the actual management committee) then it is grossly misleading.

The editorial cadre at the Morning Star are not remote managers but hard working journalists with a heavy production workload. If the paper goes under they lose their jobs.

If the the paper trades illegally then the 'management' ie the management committee stand to morse rather more than their jobs.

gypsy
Jun 17 2010 14:26

Nick even if they go under, the journalists have the right to strike.

Chilli Sauce
Jun 17 2010 16:05
Quote:
The editorial cadre at the Morning Star are not remote managers but hard working journalists with a heavy production workload. If the paper goes under they lose their jobs.

Isn't that the argument that's always given tho: "We all work productive jobs, we're in this together." I'm not disputing whether the "editorial cadre" undertake some level of productive work, but if they have managerial authority, a boss is a boss is a boss....

Nick Wright
Jun 17 2010 16:22

Of course people have the right to strike. The issue is whether they are right to strike.

Quote: 'a boss is a boss is a boss.."

This kind of infantile idiocy gets English anarchism a bad name.

‘Managerial’ authority in a cash-strapped understaffed cooperative like the Morning Star means extra responsibility and extra hours.

A boss become a boss in the classic sense only when a position in the hierarchy brings with it substantial material advantages, measurable social prestige, ownership in the form of a slice of profits and share options.

How does this square up with the situation at the Star where pay is barely at the average national level and where people in these much vaunted ‘managerial’ positions are usually the ones who have been on these low levels of pay for the longest?

Boris Badenov
Jun 17 2010 17:29
Morning Star worker wrote:
It's very similar tactics to those used in charities, where the workforce are told "how dare you ask for decent conditions when every penny goes to starving kids/puppies/blind people." It's rubbish there and it's rubbish here, if you expect people to do a job then you have to pay them for it properly.

Damn straight.

gypsy
Jun 17 2010 17:35

Vlad wrote

Quote:
Damn straight.

Is there any articles on libcom criticising/analysing charities?

Chilli Sauce
Jun 17 2010 17:40

Infantile, eh? That's the sort of idiocy that makes English Communism look like it's still stuck in 1917....

Quote:
A boss become a boss in the classic sense only when a position in the hierarchy brings with it substantial material advantages, measurable social prestige, ownership in the form of a slice of profits and share options.

No, a boss becomes a boss when they are in a hierarchical position over others in the workplace. Material advantage, measurable social prestige and the like are only secondary to that.

Perhaps where anarchists differ is that we reject all forms of hierarchy. Your "only when a position in the hierarchy..." seems to suggest you could accept hierarchy as long as it doesn't carry "substantial material advantages, measurable social prestige, ownership in the form of a slice of profits and share options." If I'm wrong about your position, please correct me, but as far as I'm concerned hierarchical socialism is a contradiction in term.

And, what you've quite unintentionally brought up is that in any capitalist enterprise (co-ops and "social" enterprises alike) those in managerial (i.e. hierarchical) positions fear any challenge to their authority and control of the workforce. Hence, the hysterical, using every union-busting trick in the book response of the Morning Star "editorial cadre".

Chilli Sauce
Jun 17 2010 17:51
Quote:
Is there any articles on libcom criticising/analysing charities?

I haven't read them, but I imagine these would be a good place to start...

http://libcom.org/forums/news/shelter-dispute-10022008
http://libcom.org/news/shelter-charity-workers-strike-again-16042008

gypsy
Jun 17 2010 17:46

cheers ncwob

Nick Wright
Jun 17 2010 18:13

#12
"No, a boss becomes a boss when they are in a hierarchical position over others in the workplace. Material advantage, measurable social prestige and the like are only secondary to that"

This is a classic example of petty bourgeois ideas masquerading as radicalism. It discounts the question of ownership and of material being and treats the additional responsibilities that devolve on the most experienced journos at the Star as if they are material advantages. 21stcenturymanifesto

Boris Badenov
Jun 17 2010 18:23

This is a boss:

Not the same thing as a nice, hard working, informally dressed guy who happens to be in a position of telling you what to do.

Django
Jun 17 2010 18:25
Quote:
This is a classic example of petty bourgeois ideas masquerading as radicalism. It discounts the question of ownership and of material being and treats the additional responsibilities that devolve on the most experienced journos at the Star as if they are material advantages.

Except that it's managers, who are often proletarianised in many ways, who impose the needs of capital on a daily basis on workers. My boss earns a couple of K more than me and has more responsibilities, but he enforces the needs of the company on me and the rest of the "team" every day.

By the criteria you've given, most managers in the public sector wouldn't be "bosses" either.

Chilli Sauce
Jun 17 2010 18:44

Who's discounting the question of ownership? Owners own and they implement a workplace hierarchy (in the form of managers) to control what they "own". A manager is an agent of the owner and is responsible to implement the owner's policies. Hence, a manager does not share the same interests as the workers and is, in fact, a boss.

And, as I've said before, it may be true that the "editorial cadre" has extra responsibility. However, If that extra responsibility involves enforcing labor or wage discipline alongside productive tasks, they are still a boss and are going to come into conflict with the workforce. That's not petit bourgeois, that's a material analysis of any workplace that operates within the context of capitalism.

Let's look at this another way. I work in a school. The headteacher certainly completes productive tasks and has a hell of a lot of responsibility. He is a member of the NUT, an ex-member of the WRP, and a self-proclaimed socialist. However, my contract is not being renewed next year due to fiscal restraints. It's his job to enforce policies based on those lack of funds. So, if my co-workers go on strike to protest my contract not getting renewed (not going happen, btw) is that "a classic example of petty bourgeois ideas masquerading as radicalism." Of course not, it's workers acting in their own self-interest. The same is going on at the Star.

The same shit happens in the rest of the "socialized" public sector, any charity, and social enterprises of all kinds.

If you want to debate this further (try to avoid resorting to petty insults even if they are crazily communist), I think this article is pretty good in provided a context to discuss these issues: http://libcom.org/library/co-ops-or-conflicts

Chilli Sauce
Jun 17 2010 18:43
Quote:
Except that it's managers, who are often proletarianised in many ways, who impose the needs of capital on a daily basis on workers. My boss earns a couple of K more than me and has more responsibilities, but he enforces the needs of the company on me and the rest of the "team" every day.

Beautifully summed up!

How did you do that in two sentences when it took me three paragraphs?

Nick Wright
Jun 17 2010 19:39

And how precisely does the low paid, overworked editor of a struggling newspaper owned by a cooperative whose shares deliver no dividend (and are owned by trade unionists and working people) fit the criteria of a’ boss’ in a capitalist enterprise whose role compels him or her to “impose the needs of capital" on his or her subordinates?

How are the “needs of capital” expressed in the model of ownership, in the daily operations and in the social relationships present in the Morning Star?
21stcenturymanifesto

Chilli Sauce
Jun 17 2010 20:10

I think you've answered your own question. Precisely because there is an ownership model. After all, we don't live in socialism, we live in a market economy. This means that the needs of capital--I think even you'll admit that the Star needs capital to function--will come into conflict with workers whose interest it is in to exert their needs above those of capital. Quite basic Marx to be honest.

And, once again, the pay of someone with managerial authority is irrelevant. I've worked in commissioned jobs where my store manager was overworked and made less than some of my direct colleagues. It didn't change the fact that the role of my boss was to implement company policy and company policy was shaped by the needs of capital.

And, hell, workers' pension funds (and especially public sector pensions) are one of the biggest investors in hedge funds. That doesn't mean that those funds aren't an expression of capitalist accumulation. It just means that henge fund capital, like all capital (including co-ops like the Star) is full of contradictions.

Django
Jun 17 2010 20:13
Quote:
And how precisely does the low paid, overworked editor of a struggling newspaper owned by a cooperative whose shares deliver no dividend (and are owned by trade unionists and working people) fit the criteria of a’ boss’ in a capitalist enterprise whose role compels him or her to “impose the needs of capital" on his or her subordinates?

How are the “needs of capital” expressed in the model of ownership, in the daily operations and in the social relationships present in the Morning Star?

Actually, thats not the point I was making. It was your argument that bosses can't be bosses if they don't earn a slice of the profits or stock options which I was responding to, as it's managers who don't meet this criteria who do the day to day work of imposing the requirements of capital on workers as pretty much any experience of work shows you.

But if you're arguing that co-operatives get to step outside of capitalism by virtue of their "model of ownership" I disagree. Co-operatives are capitalist organisations existing in a capitalist market, and they're ultimately subject to the dynamics of capitalist organisations. Sucess or lack of it doesn't matter. The other side are certainly aware of this fact, e.g.the Economist.

But anyway, when underpaid workers are on strike and you have lefties crowing at them to like it or lump it I know where my sympathies lie.
.

commieprincess
Jun 17 2010 20:33

Nice interview, Ed! That's some mad shit...

Also, remember this?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9n677ZbzC24

Why is wob continuing this debate...?

Chilli Sauce
Jun 17 2010 21:39

I was thinking, let's make this really Marxian (JK, where are you when I need you?)

Is the Morning Star a commodity? Do the workers there produce a use-value? How about an exchange-value?

Since we all know the answer to these questions is yes, we've stumbled upon the fundamental contradiction of attempting to be a revolutionary co-op within the structure of capitalism. The needs of capital will assert themselves on those who produce the commodity, in this case the Morning Star. Hence, we have the explanation for this dispute.

Done.

Nick Wright
Jun 17 2010 22:02

QUOTE: “But if you're arguing that co-operatives get to step outside of capitalism by virtue of their "model of ownership" I disagree. Co-operatives are capitalist organisations existing in a capitalist market, and they're ultimately subject to the dynamics of capitalist organisations.”

The Morning Star (as a co-operative) is not trying to step outside of capitalism. It is trying to end it. That is why historically it has been so beset by difficulties.
http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/5908

Cooperatives like the Morning Star are not capitalist organisations, anymore than the Freedom paper, or this website, is a capitalist organization.

That is not to say that they do not live in a capitalist environment. This is precisely the reason why the Morning Star (and any other progressive enterprise of this type) cannot be classified and treated in the same way as enterprises whose reason for existence is the exploitation of labour and the accumulation of profit.

This attempt to negate the central significance of ownership and profit is fatal to the revolutionary impulse that can be found in the anarchist tradition.
21stcenturymanifesto

Boris Badenov
Jun 18 2010 01:38
Nick Wright wrote:
Cooperatives like the Morning Star are not capitalist organisations, anymore than the Freedom paper, or this website, is a capitalist organization.

IIRC, Rob will correct me if I'm wrong, Freedom Press is run by volunteers. Equally, this website is maintained through donations. So that comparison is a bit fishy.

Rob Ray
Jun 18 2010 09:20

Mostly volunteer yeah but not entirely.

Having said that, Freedom's also a non-hierarchical workers' co-op, the model is very different to that of the Star and the conflict capitalism produces, while remaining inherent, does not include tensions between workers' interests and "management's right to manage."

Mike Harman
Jun 18 2010 10:19

libcom is entirely volunteer run, and most of its income comes from subs paid by the admins + topped up by donations. While it's by no means perfectly organised, it's neither a co-op nor any kind of registered company nor does it employ anyone (it might be a bit more legally resilient if it more of a legal entitiy but that still wouldn't result in any employees). So yes, not the same.

Also were we by some leap to start paying people (even on an ad-hoc basis), we'd be the first to admit the contradictions of doing so.

mons
Jun 18 2010 12:35

Yes, he's now seen this article and your link. Apparently he wants to keep his head down though.. and he finishes today I think

Nick Wright
Jun 18 2010 13:12

Are there any authentic anarchists with a materialist understanding of exploitation reading this stuff or is LibCom made up entirely of warmed over liberals?
I might have to migrate to The Commune if this is the best there is.
[url]Communist Party[/url]

posi
Jun 18 2010 13:24
Nick wrote:
I might have to migrate to The Commune if this is the best there is.

you're welcome, but I'm not sure you'll find it/us any more to you liking on this particular point.

http://thecommune.wordpress.com/2010/02/03/two-stars-of-british-nationalism/

Boris Badenov
Jun 18 2010 13:39

lol classic. if you can't beat them call them warmed over liberals and post a link to your mental warmed over eurocommie sect.
It is precisely a materialist understanding, which takes into consideration the relationship to the means of prod. not how nice and overworked the petty manageriate of your 'self-sufficient' co-op is, that informs the above criticsms. But don't worry the left has no credibility to lose so you don't have to feel bad about calling striking workers 'irresponsible and adventurist.'