Socialist Worker

Opening the paper to the movement

Next week Socialist Worker is being relaunched with a new design. Editor Chris Bambery explains

Issue No. 1922

Why is Socialist Worker relaunching itself?

This is the first complete redesign of Socialist Worker since 1983.

I worked on the paper then, and we were on the defensive. The opposition to the Falklands War had been minute—a million miles from the movement against the Iraq war.

The left and the trade unions were on the back foot.

For much of the 1980s Socialist Worker’s role was rallying our forces to prevent a retreat becoming a catastrophe. Often that involved going through long arguments.

In the 1990s things moved on, but the left was still often on the defensive. Much of the left was plunged into confusion following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the USSR.

Socialist Worker had always rejected the idea that these regimes should be defended in any way.

The paper played a key role in reorientating many on the left who had lost their traditional bearings.

Recently far more people have been writing for the paper. What’s changed?

During the 1980s and 1990s the paper was increasingly written “in-house”.

But if you look back to the 1970s, when the working class was ripping into the Tories, Socialist Worker built its reputation by being the voice of that movement.

It was full of articles by strikers and shop stewards.

Now there is a huge movement against capitalism and war.

The paper needs to again be the voice of the movement.

That means opening up not just to the big names like Arundhati Roy, but also to activists across Britain and the globe.

It means changing our cultural coverage to take into account how the movement has impacted on music, the stage and screen.

But you are still Socialist Worker. The name is something of a statement.

We are part of the movement, always. But we are a specific voice arguing for revolution.

A few weeks ago novelist Tariq Mehmood argued in Socialist Worker that “the problem lies in the health of the socialist and working class movement”.

He explained that if they “were on the move they would take everyone with them”.

He is right, but there is a problem. The millions who marched against the war make up the new working class of 2004.

But because they have not yet fought together as a class they often see themselves as a rainbow coalition.

When those millions understand they are united by something more than race, colour or gender—by class—we can move the movements.

But can’t calling the paper Socialist Worker put off people who see you as being biased?

The Financial Times doesn’t need to call itself Capitalist Times, because it is presenting ideas which pass for everyday common sense.

We aren’t going to trick people into making a revolution. We are open about our politics.

Socialist Worker is not just a “good read”. It is trying to develop an alternative to capitalism and organise people to win battles along the way.

That’s why we sell the paper outside workplaces and on the streets, and why we organise Socialist Worker forums.

The paper seems to have taken up wider social issues like the debate on Anti-Social Behaviour Orders.

There are swathes of working class Britain where there is little or no sense of community.

People can feel there is nothing to identify with but David Beckham, and all that’s left is to get out of your skull on drugs and alcohol.

We need to give a voice to those swathes of Britain which are voiceless.

And its not just white working class Britain. Among the African-Caribbean population the big issue is why the education system fails black children.

We need to get involved in these arguments. And that means the left needs to start getting active in these areas.

All the design changes won’t make any difference unless the paper is being sold in the movement, at workplaces, in the colleges, to individuals we know, and at events like the European Social Forum.

The old models for tabloid newspapers no longer work

NEXT WEEK’S Socialist Worker will have a different look and feel about it.

On the front page there will be a new masthead, and inside there will be other changes.

Previously Socialist Worker was designed to look like other tabloid newspapers in Britain—in particular the Daily Mirror. The redesigned paper has moved away from that model for three key reasons.

Firstly, in the 1970s and early 1980s tabloid papers did, some of the time, bring serious news stories to their overwhelmingly working class readership.

A long period of steady decline means that tabloids are now almost exclusively associated with all the worst features of journalism.

In design terms, the Mirror generally put more effort into its “3am Girls” celebrity gossip pages than it did into opposing the war on Iraq.

Secondly, the huge popularity of writers who make a critique of capitalism and war means that many Socialist Worker readers expect a very sophisticated understanding of the world.

They expect our paper to present them with serious arguments and analysis. And they expect a design which reflects that commitment.

Lastly, there is a question of fashion. British tabloids look dated, while European tabloid design has broken new ground.

At Socialist Worker we believe that the purpose of newspaper design is to emphasise content.

We hope that our new design makes the paper more attractive and easier to read.

Please let us know what you think.
Yuri Prasad, Socialist Worker art director

‘The stories the others ignore’

SOCIALIST WORKER readers met up two weeks ago to discuss the redesign plans and what they would like to see in the relaunched paper.

Clare Fermont said, “It’s so exciting—this will go down brilliantly with readers.

“Socialist Worker carries working class stories that other papers don’t touch, and it tracks the key arguments people are having in the movement.

“When issues come up in the movement, we should put the arguments we don’t agree with in their strongest form and then reply to them.

“The paper needs plenty of irreverence—directed against the ruling class.

“I’d like to see special pullouts on issues like the Private Finance Initiative, or special investigations into social issues. That can start a debate you can cover in the paper.

“It is also important that the industrial coverage isn’t all at the back of the paper. Some strikes should be near the front, in the news section.”

Moira added, “People ask whether Socialist Worker is the paper of the SWP or of the movement.

“But being hard politically means we have to take on arguments that come up in the movement all the time.

“People at work buy the paper. They weren’t always comfortable with the tabloid style in the past.

“Today it’s much easier to sell the paper to a wide circle of people.”

Others at the meeting explained how Socialist Worker had established a reputation among workers in the past by campaigning over issues like asbestosis—covering the issue in depth every week.

Have your say

Socialist Worker is hosting a series of meeting around the country to discuss the relaunch of the paper.

London Saturday 23 October, 3pm, Birkbeck College, Malet Street, Bloomsbury, followed by a reception with food and wine at the Bookmarks bookshop.

Manchester Wednesday 27 October, 7.30pm, Cross Street Chapel.

Leeds Thursday 28 October, 7.30pm, Priestley Room, West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Birmingham Thursday 4 November, 7pm, Carrs Lane Centre.

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Article information

Sat 9 Oct 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1922
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