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Socialist in Name Only

Report: Socialist media maven is a 'robber baron'

Jacobin founder Bhaskar Sunkara / Twitter
• September 30, 2018 5:00 am

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America's most prominent socialist media mogul is more robber baron than Robin Hood, according to former staffers.

Writers at Tribune, one of Great Britain's most storied leftist publications, thought their financial struggles were solved when Jacobin founder Bhaskar Sunkara arrived. Those hopes were short-lived, according to a new story in Payday Report. The staffers fought to keep the publication alive, despite the end of its print magazine in January and delays in collecting money for their contributions. The company was effectively bankrupt having spent 120,000 pounds annually while revenues remained 10,000 pounds.

In a letter first obtained by Payday Report these writers said they agreed to take reduced pay following Sunkara's rescue of the magazine. The socialist publisher paid out 70 percent of the money owed to these staffers, but reneged on his promise to keep them employed.

"It is almost as though, once we had been ‘paid off,' you had decided that we could comfortably be cast aside completely," Mike Parker said in the letter addressed to Sunkara. "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."

Another Tribune writer went even further. Ian Hernon said Jacobin exploited workers at the British publication. Sunkara behaved more like a Gilded Age "robber baron" than a champion of the working man during the takeover.

"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," Hernon told Payday Report.

Sunkara responded in a statement posted to Tribune‘s website. He emphasized that Jacobin was under no legal requirement to make payments to Parker and his fellow contributors and the management team made these payments voluntarily. The statement dismissed the letter and other statements issued by disgruntled former contributors, saying they "are not an accurate portrayal of the long path that led to Tribune’s rescue and relaunch." Jacobin said letter-writers Parker, Hernon, and George Osgerby oversaw a dysfunctional system that had led the Tribune into bankruptcy in the first place.

The "proposal to Jacobin—that we take over the magazine as proprietor but continue to run it with the same staff and on the same basis that had led it to bankruptcy—was clearly not viable," the statement said. "Tribune needed a new start and we defend this editorial decision."

Jacobin has a habit of behaving in ways at odds with their official ideology, however, according to Payday Report. The company pays its contributors far below a living wage with writers collecting an average of $50 to $100 for each piece. Sunkara's critics have accused him "of building his [media] empire by underpaying his writers."

"The purchase of the paper seemed like an ideal takeover for Sunkara linking his viral socialist publication in America with the struggling legacy British paper," Payday Report said. "Media workers activists say that he's done it by exploiting those, who produce content for socialist publications."

Sunkara said in his statement that he has taken every step to keep the doors open despite crippling debts and unpaid bills. He pledged that the revamped Tribune will live up to its storied history.

"We will produce the kind of high-quality socialist writing that Tribune‘s 80-year history demands," Sunkara said of the publication he purchased from a convicted rapist.

Full Disclosure: Payday Report is run by 2015 Washington Free Beacon Man of the Year Mike Elk. Mr. Elk has approached the author several times about unionizing the newsroom. The union campaign has failed to gain support because of the Free Beacon‘s just compensation policies and unrivaled health benefits.