Print Subversion in the Wapping Dispute

Cops and Scabs

Wapping was all about cops and scabs. Scabs, unionised, or ununionised workers, who undermined the interests of the existing News International staff left stranded and jobless when Murdoch moved his operations from Fleet Street to Wapping overnight, were a magnet for the anger of the workers picketing Wapping. Scabs were verbally abusesd as they entered or exited the News International compound, known as Fortress Wapping. The vans that carried them were frequently attacked with eggs, paint, ink and rocks. Picket Bulletin took to regularly publishing scabs home addresses, with important updates in the newsletter (there were mistakes, fortunately apologies, and as we see below a resolution for better verification before printing).

At Wapping Rupert Murdoch was allowed to use the Metropolitan Police as a private army on duty to defend his Wapping Plant. Throughout the dispute cops and scabs were the targets of the hatred born of decades of racist policing and strikebreaking. After numerous major confrontations around the Miner's Strike between 1983-4, the atmosphere of both the worst clashes of the Miners strike and the UK urban riots of 1985 was palpable at Wapping. From early on in the strike Wapping residents, many working class, unemployed and with experience of racist policing began to confront the tight policing of their area, the constant vans and lorries tearing through it and the harassment and heavy handed behaviour of the police. The total cost of policing indicates that the Wapping dispute was simply another set-piece in Thatcher's war on working people and the treatment of pickets or residents was to be equally violent.

The cop's violent tactics at an anniversary demonstration on 24 January 1987 were the subject of a report, A Case to Answer: A Report on the policing of the News International demonstration at Wapping on January 24th 1987.

Seven major complaints about police use of violence have emerged from our evidence. They are:

  • That the police used their truncheons in an unnecessarily violent way, assaulting demonstrators at random and without warning;That some officers used unauthorised weapons such as lengths of wood and banner poles rather than regulation issue truncheons;
  • That horse charges were made without adequate warnings and at speed into an enclosed space in which demonstrators were taking shelter;
  • That despite Home Office denials, officers on horseback did strike demonstrators with their batons during charges into the crowd;
  • That riot police assaulted demonstrators with their shields;
  • That journalists and press photographers were singled out for attack;
  • That first aid vehicles containing injured demonstrators had their windows smashed by police.

In a survey of Special Branch files related to Wapping, some of the extent of police surveillance, as well as the defiant humour of the demonstrators, is evidenced: