Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/672/12108

From The Socialist newspaper, 25 May 2011

Wapping exhibition review

Leadership failed print workers in vital battle

Bill Mullins

Throughout May the Marx Memorial Library (MML) in Clerkenwell Green, London has been largely given over to the 'News International Dispute; 25 years on' exhibition. Print and media unions Unite/GPMU sector and the National Union of Journalists organised the event alongside the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (CPBF) and the MML.

25 years ago print boss Rupert Murdoch set out to destroy the Fleet Street print unions and in the process make himself the biggest media mogul on the planet. The CPBF's involvement shows that this dispute was not only about jobs and trade union rights but also about the monopolisation of the press and broadcasting in Britain and worldwide.

As the exhibition shows, in 1969 Murdoch persuaded the print unions to back his bid for the Sun from the owners of the Daily Mirror. Up to then the Sun had been a Labour-supporting paper. Under Murdoch, along with his recently acquired News of the World, it became a rabidly pro-Thatcher newspaper.

The exhibition displays a secret letter that Murdoch's lawyers, Farrer & Co wrote to Murdoch before the dispute in 1986. It says: "If the moment came when it was necessary to dispense with the present workforce...the cheapest way would be to dismiss employees while participating in a strike".

In 1983 Murdoch managers engaged the unions in talks about moving production of the papers from Fleet Street to Wapping, with the use of new production methods. But in 1985 Murdoch broke off the talks and served six months' notice on the unions to effectively end union presence in the papers.

Murdoch aimed to introduce legally binding 'no strike' agreements, to end the closed shop and to end in particular the influence of the chapels (the local union branches which were the real source of workers' control of Fleet Street.) After all it was the Daily Mail printers' refusal to print a vicious article against the miners in 1926 that was the signal for the general strike to begin.

The national press unions at the time, Sogat, NGA, AUEW and the NUJ called a strike ballot on 24 January 1986. Murdoch then implemented his plan to smash the unions and began the process of sacking what became over 5,500 men and women.

For a whole year the local print unions called for regular mass picketing/demonstrations outside the fortified Wapping plant in London and the Kinning Park plant in Glasgow. Every Wednesday and Saturday for 12 months thousands of workers descended on Wapping. There they met with vicious charges from mounted police in full riot gear, fresh from the state's war against the miners in 1984-85.

Workers in the wholesale distribution outlets for the Sun and News of the World refused to handle the papers. Pickets chased the "white mice" (the vans which delivered the papers to the news agents) and many other actions took place. The mass picketing of Wapping was aimed in particular at the TNT juggernaut lorries that brought the newspapers out of the Wapping plant.

The unions were taken to court for secondary picketing and other so-called "illegal" actions. Massive fines were imposed on the unions and Sogat had its funds sequestrated by the courts (in effect the union's bank accounts were frozen).

The Metropolitan police hospitalised hundreds of pickets and demonstrators. Over 1,400 trade unionists were arrested during the dispute. In an inquiry afterwards by Northamptonshire police, the Met were found to have acted in a "violent and undisciplined way" but nobody was put on trial as a result.

Disgracefully Eric Hammond, the general secretary of the EEPTU (electricians' union) was proved to have been in secret talks with Murdoch well before the strike. He had been responsible for recruiting a strike-breaking workforce mainly from southern England and bussing them into Wapping every night.

Despite this the TUC refused to throw the EEPTU out of its ranks for this crime against the print workers, (it was thrown out a year after the strike for negotiating single union deals with other employers).

Following the attacks on the union funds the national print unions called off the strike in February 1987.

The exhibition is well worth visiting (and it's free). It is a reminder that the 1980s was a decade where the unions were under systematic attack from the employers, the state, the police and the courts.

Fleet Street print unions were some of the best organised in any industry but it was not enough to stop the defeat. All the capitalist system's resources were used against them. It would have required the mobilisation of the whole trade union movement to win this battle but it would have needed a political answer as well.

The TUC's right wing leaders in effect stood by, as they did with the miners earlier, as the printers were driven into defeat. This is the main lesson from the battle of Wapping.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 25 May 2011:


What we think

Weak and unpopular coalition can be defeated


Anti-cuts campaigning

National shop stewards conference - Unite to stop the cuts

As the cost of living soars...: 'We are going to fight back'!

An offer we must refuse

Why Liverpool needs a needs budget

Showing an alternative to cuts in Dorset


Defending the NHS

Battling to defend the NHS

NHS demo in London needs to be a step towards united national strike action

Unison leaders failing to adopt the demands of health workers

Challenging Tories' plans to kill our health service


Socialist Party workplace news

PCS conference: developing strategies for struggle

UCU facing battles on all fronts

Southampton city council workers strike

Three day strike to stop redundancies at Sheffield College

Firefighters discuss strategy to fight cuts

Workplace news in brief


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

"We are London Met Uni, not EasyMet"

Atos Origin - profiting from pain

'Slutwalk' protests: Women reject sexism

Slave labour schemes must be resisted


Reviews and comments

Leadership failed print workers in vital battle

Review: The street that cut everything


Socialist Party news and analysis

McNulty's railway report: not 'value for money'!

Care homes privatisation hits the elderly

News in brief


International socialist news and analysis

Eyewitness report: Mass youth protests in Spain

Ireland: 'Reclaim the unions'

Greece: Resist bosses' agenda and the far right


 

Home   |   The Socialist 25 May 2011   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  




Related links:

Unions:

triangleA world in crisis, ripe for revolution

triangleAfter the budget - unions must launch pay fight

triangleChatsworth neuro-rehab ward still open - unions join the campaign

triangleUnions must fight workplace mental health crisis

triangleNSSN meeting brings together workers in struggle

Print:

triangleWarrington Socialist Party: The battle of Winwick Quay

triangleNew Socialist Party press

triangleObituary: John Sharpe: 1953-2016

Union:

triangleSupport the Crossrail Woolwich walkout

triangleSix months on - still no justice for Grenfell

Strike:

triangle110 years ago: massacre at Santa Maria school in Chile - commemorate 21 December 1907

Police:

triangleIrish capitalist state: rotten to the core

TUC:

triangleRoyal Mail bosses block strike - back postal workers

Rupert Murdoch:

triangleFight the Sun's bigoted lies

Reviews and comments

Reviews and comments

13/12/17

The Socialist

The Socialist's 2017 quiz

6/12/17

Fire

The Socialist Inbox

6/12/17

Surrey

Comment: Socialism and truth about Zane

6/12/17

Labour Party

Blairite horror and Labour's divisions graphically exposed

30/11/17

Theatre

Dramatic retelling of Grunwick strike

22/11/17

Working class

Left comic's take on politics will have you in tears

22/11/17

Letters

The Socialist inbox

15/11/17

The Socialist

The Socialist Inbox

15/11/17

Abortion

TV review: Abortion on Trial - hard-hitting look at impact of 1967 act

15/11/17

Vietnam war

Comprehensive account of bloody conflict

8/11/17

Letters

The Socialist inbox

8/11/17

Obituary

Obituary: Paul Randall, 1959-2017

8/11/17

Theatre

Welsh update of Chekhov an engrossing tale of 1980s class conflict

1/11/17

Letters

The Socialist inbox

25/10/17

Letters

The Socialist inbox

triangleMore Reviews and comments articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party

triangle13 Dec Support the Crossrail Woolwich walkout

triangle8 Dec Local government pay: fight for the 5% claim, fully funded

triangle6 Dec Strikers rally in Liverpool

triangle6 Dec Corbyn's Labour can defeat Tories with socialist programme

triangle5 Dec Victory at Glenfield shows people power can save our NHS

triangle5 Dec Labour council Blairites deselected

triangle30 Nov Victory: Glenfield Children's Heart Centre saved!

More ...

triangle13 Dec Caerphilly Socialist Party: Are we heading for an era of war?

triangle14 Dec Wakefield Socialist Party: Universal Credit - the Tories' latest assault on the poor

triangle18 Dec Leeds Socialist Party: Religion and Socialism

triangle19 Dec Bristol North Socialist Party: Christmas social

More ...

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

Archive

Archives:

December 2017

November 2017

October 2017

September 2017

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999

Legal

SP RSS feed RSS

Platform setting: = No platform choice

V2