The Morning Star (and the Daily Worker before it) for years survived thanks to a subsidy from the Russian leadership: Moscow paid it £3,000 a month in the 1960s (equivalent of £60,000-plus today), and in the 1970s and 1980s purchased 12,000 copies a day. When the order was cancelled in 1992, the paper was saved by the leaders of several British trade unions pumping money in.
Union funding continues to ensure the paper’s survival via bulk orders, generous payments for advertising, and subsidised special editions for union conferences, Tolpuddle, the Durham Miners’ Gala, etc.
Paradoxically, this dependence upon union funding often makes the Morning Star a very poor source of information about union matters. The paper provides sympathetic coverage of disputes and campaigns, but it avoids anything that might embarrass the union bureaucracy.
Thus this year there has been no coverage of the bitter dispute within Unite’s “United Left” over which candidate will receive their support to stand in the election to replace Len McCluskey; no coverage of the events that led the RMT’s assistant general secretary Mick Lynch to step down after accusing members of the union’s national executive of bullying and harassment; most egregiously, there has been just one article (and a fairly “soft” one at that) about the report finding the GMB guilty of institutional sexism and bullying.
This deference towards the union bureaucracy also leads to some shameful political contortions. On Thursday 24 September, the front page headline was “TUC and CBI call for furlough replacement to aid recovery” (note the italicised “and”).
If anyone was in any doubt that the paper welcomed this, the article hailed what it called “a united front of unions and employers (which) is demanding immediate government action to prevent catastrophic redundancies.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady was quoted saying “The TUC stands ready to work with government and business to protect jobs”. If redundancies could not be avoided, the article reported: “The TUC has also joined forces with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and conciliation service Acas to issue guidance to help firms and workers deal with job losses... We know that times are tough and that, as a last resort employers may make redundancies.”
So the TUC is offering its “guidance” to employers on sacking workers — and the Morning Star simply reports that without comment.
It’s worth contrasting this soft line on class collaboration from the TUC, with the paper’s sharp (and often correct) criticisms of Keir Starmer and the post-Corbyn Labour leadership. The Morning Star has no financial incentive to appease Starmer.
But some of its recent attacks on Starmer’s “patriotism” speech (for example, a florid denunciation by Kevin Ovenden, 26-27 September) seem a little odd given that in January the MS published a lengthy defence of Rebecca Long Bailey’s “progressive patriotism” call (“There is no contradiction between patriotism and socialism” by Matt Widdowson) and on 7 May, carried an article with the snazzy headline “Patriotism is good for you” by Doug Nicholls, chair of Trade Unionists Against the EU.
It seems that, for the Morning Star, class collaboration and patriotism are unacceptable from Keir Starmer — but class collaboration is OK when it comes from the TUC, and patriotism is OK when it comes from pro-Brexit types.