Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Don’t let this be the end of Tribune

A message to readers from the editor - There is a crucial meeting today with the trade union owners of Tribune - fingers crossed.

AS SOME readers may have seen or heard, Tribune is in trouble. After more than 70 years as a voice for independent social democratic thinking, Tribune is in imminent danger of becoming silent. Next week, the magazine’s trade union owners will be faced with a decision that could cease publication within weeks.

Yet the current political situation – not to mention the domination of the British media by right wing proprietors – absolutely demands the continued existence of Tribune. With neo-liberalism in crisis, the Thatcher-Reagan consensus about the triumph of markets and the minimal role for the state is now at an end.

Governments are now intervening decisively in the economy. But what is needed is a narrative which explains to people just how this situation has arisen and which provides an analysis for Labour activists of the current situation. Equally, tens of thousands of trade unionists need a campaigning newspaper to press the Government to protect the interests of working people as the current economic crisis rolls out.

All of these tasks will be made so much harder if Tribune ceases to exist.

Readers who have remained loyal for many years, as well as the increasing numbers of new subscribers and those who have returned to the fold deserve an explanation of how we reached this point. That is what I seek to do here in as fair and factual a way as possible.

The present phase of Tribune’s often-parlous history began with a rescue plan which resulted in a consortium of trade unions – Unison, Amicus, Community, ASLEF and the CWU taking ownership in January 2004. The T&G joined the board later.

In the past three years under the present internal management, Tribune has been transformed from a terminal decline, with rising costs and falling circulation, into a position of rising circulation, reduced running costs and a significantly reduced monthly loss. We are not yet in the position we aspire to, but we have achieved a better product with greater relevance to the labour movement and beyond. It has done so thanks to the goodwill and dedication of its staff. Since its heyday, Tribune has never been in a better position to build on its potential and move toward a financially stable future and a bigger audience engaged in the debate which Tribune is uniquely placed to lead. Achieving a breakthrough required investment, to ensure sustained growth and development and allay the ongoing burden of historic debt.

To that end I called on the board last March to decide whether Tribune should survive as a commercial enterprise, which would entail investment obligations, or should be closed, if that were the board’s wish, in as orderly manner as possible. The hope was to obtain agreement for the necessary funding. But if that were not an option, then a clear decision should be made on closure to avoid running the magazine into the ground and an enforced closure by debtors. The second option was tabled precisely to avoid the crisis in which Tribune now finds itself and to give it time to find a new owner if the unions were no longer committed. The board decided that closure was not an option and that a plan should be drawn up by the internal management based on investment in a promotions campaign to increase subscriptions, widen use of the Internet site and broaden Tribune activities. Unfortunately, no decision has been made to date and in the interim debts have mounted.

The last decision of the board – at a meeting which took place at the TUC in Brighton – was to refer the issue, with a request for help, to the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation, the umbrella and funding organisation for Labour supporting unions. It agreed to grant a small amount of short-term financing, for which we are grateful, and for a longer-term solution to be examined in time for a meeting in November. However, it is unlikely that Tribune will survive into November without support from its owners, the trades unions. So the next meeting of the board on October 7 must decide its fate.

It will cost up to £170,000 to close Tribune. It currently costs £50,000 to run it for a year with no promotions budget. The Business Plan called for £200,000 over two years with a break-even target and increased growth beyond. This is a small investment when the present and future roles of Tribune are examined.

While Tribune is justly proud to look back on its past – founded by Nye Bevan as a unifying force against the march of fascism in Spain, early opposition to the appeasement of Hitler, a rock in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Anti-Apartheid Movement, the championing of freedom and trade union rights in eastern Europe, its literary and editorial brilliance under editors such as George Orwell and Michael Foot – we can be proud too not only of our unique place in British journalism and the labour movement but also, and even more importantly, about its future potential.

But we do not rest our case on our past. International capitalism is once more in crisis. Socialists know from our history that whenever this occurs, the masters of our globalised world unleash attacks on public services, on levels of employment and on the standards of living of ordinary people. The country, and above all working people who are represented by our owners the trades unions, absolutely need a sane voice on the left speaking out fearlessly in the coming struggles. In its name and what it stands for, in its intellectual property and archive material, its capacity to expand nationally and globally in the online world, Tribune should be considered as an exciting vehicle for promoting and championing issues on the left and those affecting not just the labour movement but reaching out to those fragmented groups and individuals who share a left perspective and concerns but are outside organised parties.

Tribune has huge potential to grow in stature, influence and importance by linking debate, experiences and analysis instantly and globally among democratic socialists, trade unionists and single-issue groups and individuals engaged in political, economic or industrial struggle and human rights.

Tribune remains the most ardent independent supportive voice for the labour movement in Britain and stands for its founding internationalist principles. The political cost of losing Tribune, for want of a comparatively small investment, would be incalculable. This is no time to lose it.

Chris McLaughlin

hat-tip thingy Col.Roi


Laban said...

Trouble is "the masters of our globalised world" have been keeping wages down via mass immigration for the last few years - with the full approval of a Trades Union movement less concerned with its members interests than with being on-side in that vital battle battle against xenophobia and bigotry.

It's a pity. As a traditionalist I'd hate to see Tribune go - all that history, that great writing. But the Labour Party is utterly changed from the party of Attlee and Bevin, or even Wilson and Callaghan. Tony Crosland's political inheritors are in charge, clever public schoolboys who know what's good for working people better than we do ourselves. Maybe Tribune belongs to an age of Labour that is no more, and its time is up.

Anonymous said...

Its immigration that means we can build houses or run our NHS

1 in 5 London nurses are from overseas (Philipines etc) These are excellent nurses and we in the UK dont have enough nurses

Thats why migrant workers are so important

John Gray said...

Hi Labon
I’m with anon on this. There are serious issues to be addressed about immigration which need to dealt with, but simply blaming immigration is not the answer.

I went to a really good and thought provoking workshop run by the unison international section at the decent work day event which I will hopefully post on soon.

You forget that Atlee was a “clever public schoolboy”