Conflict between comrades may sink 'Morning Star'

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BRITAIN'S only Marxist daily newspaper is in imminent danger of closure after its Communist journalists walked out on indefinite strike yesterday in protest at the allegedly authoritarian attitude of their Communist managers.

The fratricidal conflict at the Morning Star has all the hallmarks of a traditional capitalist industrial dispute: allegations of rank injustice, accusations of "gross industrial misconduct", involvement of highly paid lawyers, an inter-union row and even the intervention of the miners' strike leader, Arthur Scargill.

What makes this a particularly vicious political soap opera, apart from the involvement of Communists on both sides, is the atmosphere of personal animosity which pervades the offices of the Star at Hackney, east London.

The journalists, who earn pounds 10,000 a year in return for their dedication to the labour movement, have walked out because John Haylett, their editor, has been suspended for disciplinary reasons and his deputy, Martin Corrie, appointed temporarily in his place. Mr Corrie happens to be the son-in- law of Mary Rosser, the paper's chief executive, which adds the allegation of nepotism to the rich mix of charge and counter-charge.

Ms Rosser accuses the deposed editor of "gross industrial misconduct", which, according to Mr Haylett's supporters, is reference to his use of the Star's computer system for political purposes, an unremarkable activity for a Communist, it is said. A sub-text to a multi-layered argument is that Mike Hicks, Ms Rosser's husband, was recently voted out of his position as general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain by a majority of its ruling committee, which included Comrade Haylett.

Since the collapse of Communism, the fragility of the Star's finances has entered an even more delicate phase. For 60 years after the paper was established on 1 January 1930 - it was called the Daily Worker until April 1966 - it was heavily subsidised by the Communist bloc. Since the Berlin Wall came down, it has been supported for the most part by block sales to unions such as Unison and the Transport and General. Circulation has declined from 120,000 to about 6,500.

Clearly, the longer the paper stays off the streets, the greater the likelihood of bankruptcy. Standing in the wings, according to the Star yesterday morning, is Arthur Scargill, president of the National Union of Mineworkers and leader of the Socialist Labour Party. Apparently, the Communist Party of Britain, which effectively controls the Star, has been in talks with Mr Scargill about the possibility of his party buying it.

Management of the paper and the National Union of Journalists were last night locked in discussions at the Acas conciliation service in an attempt to thrash out a compromise. Ms Rosser said she was hopeful that the talks would lead to a quick solution, and rejected union allegations that the case against the suspended editor was "trivial". The NUJ described the charged against Mr Haylett as "trumped up".

Not all trade unionists at the paper offered the journalists their unswerving solidarity. Leaders of the GPMU print workers' union claim they have not been properly consulted and that the NUJ is involved in a rather esoteric dispute which could mean the loss of their members' jobs.