Owner of relaunched Tribune magazine dubbed “robber baron” in jobs row

New owner of relaunched Tribune magazine accused of short-changing former writers in scathing letters.

Correction: Red Roar recently reported that the new management of Tribune owed wages to former staff. This is not accurate and we apologise for the error.

The new owner of Tribune Magazine has been called a “robber baron” and accused of short-changing the publication’s former writers, who were all let go after the recent takeover of the left-wing outlet.

Tribune was once a major publication on the anti-Soviet left, which counts Nye Bevan and Michael Foot as former editors, with George Orwell and Barbara Castle making contributions to the paper too. The (now) magazine was relaunched last night in Liverpool at The World Transformed conference, with Guardian journalists Owen Jones and Dawn Foster speaking at the event.

In recent years the magazine had struggled to stay alive. Until its recent sale to editor of the US publication Jacobin, Bhaskar Sunkara, it had been owned by convicted rapist Owen Oyston, more recently famous for illegitimately stripping £26 million out of Blackpool FC as owner while overseeing the club’s fall from the premiership to league two.

During this period, the Tribune was kept alive by a small team of committed staff, with no resources and for very little pay. New owner Sunkara told the three that he would want them to continue writing for the magazine and to be involved in planning its relaunch.

But with his purchase of the magazine Sunkara became liable for debts owed to the writers by its former owner. Sunkara proposed that the writers would receive just 70% of what was owed, which the writers agreed under the impression they would continue working for the magazine.

But since this compromise was agreed the writers heard “practically nothing” from Sunkara, nor from Ronan Burtenshaw, the new editor. The three set out their charges against Sunkara in separate open letters. Mike Parker, who has been unemployed since signing away 30% of the wages owed to him, wrote:

“We were not asked to participate in any planning, nor invited to contribute. We were not informed of Ronan Burtenshaw’s appointment as editor or what the editorial plans for Tribune were. It is almost as though, once we had been ‘paid off’, you had decided that we could comfortably be cast aside completely. Perhaps you suspected that if we had not received this false promise of involvement we would have been reluctant to accept that 70 per cent. To be honest, I suspect such suspicion would have been correct.”

Ian Hernon compared the new proprietor to a capitalist asset stripper: “In the capitalist world someone who buys an ailing company and dumps its committed workers is known as an asset-stripper or robber baron, but at least they don’t claim to be socialists.”

No doubt those involved in re-launching the socialist magazine will justify this predatory capitalist business practice by pointing to the equally appalling actions of some mainstream media outlets and the need to establish alternative left-wing media voices. They would do well to listen to the words of the third former-Tribune writer to be thrown on the scrapheap, George Osgerby, who wrote on what it means to be a democratic socialist:

“All the pious, pseudo-academic waffle in the world doesn’t really amount to a hill of beans. Our actions are what count. How we treat others is what matters.”

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