idea there is no market for monochrome and two tone printing is
dubious, as many provincial local papers are still printed mainly in
one or two colours, using similar technology to East End Offset.
According to the newspaper society this is the fastest growing sector
of the market. In any event, it can be assumed that the managerial and
staffing costs of East End Offset are lower than equivalent commercial
enterprises, and they probably have less industrial relations problems.
The SWP's internal
weekly mailing, Party Notes, claims that an upgrade would cost £1
million and spending this much would be crazy. However as an
established national print firm with 30 years experience and national
titles in its portfolio, a bank loan would have been available. The
SWP membership and the wider support for Socialist Worker could also
have generated £500000 for a specific upgrade appeal. If other
commercial printing firms are upgrading -then why not East End Offset?
It is in any event not clear why this has come to a head so suddenly,
the daily tabloids have been full colour for the last ten years
The SWP says that
their paper has to be full colour, and that the competitor magazines
for Socialist Review are full colour. Both of there arguments are open
to question. People buy SW for
its political content not its print quality. The high price of 80p
compared to 35p for the Mirror or 60p for the Independent is a bigger
difference than the lack of full colour.
point of comparison of course is that back in 1973 when the IS
acquired its current presses Socialist Worker under Roger Protz's
editorship had a paid sale of around 20000
per week. In addition the various Rank and File papers were selling
thousands of copies. This meant that the IS's own publications made
the print-shop viable. This is a good comparison as the Swindon
Evening Advertiser today has a paid print run of 26000, and is a
commercially viable printing press. The SWP has not for many years
published its sales figures, but I estimate a paid sale of 5000 is
This also raises
the question of what the SWP sees as competitor magazines for
Socialist Review? That is anyone's guess. I think this is the one
publication in the SWP's stable that is still consistently worth
reading, although it could be much better if it opened its editorial
policy to allow a debate with other strands of opinion.
So what is really
going on? We can only speculate.
It has been a bad
year in some ways for the SWP. It has failed to grow out of the
anti-war movement, in spectacular contrast to a very real growth
during the 1991 gulf war.
Although the Stop
the War Coalition was a fantastic achievement, it was very demanding
on the SWP. In many areas of the country only a minority of SWP
comrades were actively involved with Stop the War on a week by week
basis - for example I understand that
only two SWP members have been attending Bristol StWC weekly
meetings. This has led to a certain fatigue for some, and a bit of
disengagement with the rest of the movement for others. What is more
there has been a failure of the whole left to really engage with the
argument of whether we could have stopped the war if we had made some
different tactical decisions after 15th February. This has led to
subsequent anti-war activity being a bit aimless.
launch of RESPECT has led to some wear and tear on the SWP. Although
there were special meetings open to all members to discuss RESPECT,
there was no internal bulletin produced in this period, so competing
opinions were not enfranchised. The tactical decision to ban Socialist
Alliance candidates in the June elections was not even discussed with
SWP members on the SA national executive - yet I believe this has
proved counterproductive in
demobilising a wider layer of SA activists who would otherwise have
been active building both the SA and RESPECT.
In this context,
I think the SWP is overstretched and has been spending beyond its
means, gambling on a new influx of members that has not materialised.
I don't know about RESPECT's
finances, but I also
fear that the cost
of a full nationwide mailing has placed
a financial strain onto the SWP.
suspect that the SWP are pulling out of printing and selling the
premises just to balance the books.
after June 10th the SWP needs to open itself up to a debate
about decisions made over the last few months, and how it can move
forward as an organisation. If it is not too late the decision to
close East End Offset should be postponed until the membership is able
to make an informed, collective decision on whether this valuable
resource for the movement should be lost. It is time for the SWP to
open the books!