Print Subversion in the Wapping Dispute

May Day 1986

3 May 1986 Massive demonstration moving from Tower Hill to News International Wapping.

The 3 May 1986 was the 100th day of the strike. Efforts by the unions to frame the demonstration as a 'march for jobs' can be contrasted with the fervent anti-work attitude of publications leading up to the strike. The scorn for work and capitalism is as evident in London Workers Group Bulletin and Workers Playtime, those directly supporting the Wapping Pickets: such as Class War and Picket, and in the practical thrust of actions s to simply shut down Murdoch's works by any, especially violent, means. 'Strikers stand firm, TUC go to Hell', Picket wrote in their first issue of the Bulletin, No.1, 5 March 1986. Throughout the early-1980s Workers Playtime and associated publications lampooned the print, mining and other unions and their leaderships, reserving a particular hatred for the TUC. 'We Want to Riot Not to Work' a headline from a 1981 London Workers Group Bulletin proclaimed!

Tensions between pickets (the workers on the ground) and their union representatives were high throughout the strike. There was a great deal of anger about the lack of preparedness of the unions, as well as disappointment with the way union leaders sought to compromise with Murdoch and News International. These rifts were reflected in the differing attitude to police on the picket line and around Wapping. Coverage by Picket focusses on the action by workers and their supporters and their joint struggles with police on the day. Picket Bulletin's report on May Day 1986 was issued the following day, 4 May. The report is full of details about the efforts of the pickets on the day, the involvement of women, their battles with police, providing street names and strategic details of movements of the crowd and police around the area on the day. Coverage by the Wapping Post, by contrast, tends to paint the police as violent villains, which is obviously true, but removes all agency from the pickets and others holding the line. The Wapping Post's report on May Day 1986 is released two weeks after the event. The presentation is sensationalist, 'what Tim saw behind the police lines' emphasising the violent agency of the police, with the agency of the pickets, workers and supporters being thoroughly absent. A more irreverent approach is evident in a spoof edition of The Sun: The Paper That Supports Our Scabs, deliberately published to coincide with and provide some comic relief for those attending the May Day 1986 mass demonstration marching on Fortress Wapping from Tower Hill. In the early-1980s London Workers Group and Workers Playtime experimented with 'spoofing' the UK's tabloid papers, a strategy which would be revived intensively during the Wapping Dispute (The Scum, The Sun, Wapping Post), and later used by groups such as Reclaim the Streets (Evading Standards) and other activist groups. Since this was a strike by print workers, many set about applying the skills they knew best to attack their adversary on his own ground: the media. In the paper constellation which burgeoned from below as the strike dragged on, readers would encounter the craven ignorance promoted by News International's growing media empire, (from the casual misogyny of page 3; the fool's gold promise of the Sun's weekly bingo; to the miasma of sex, lies, racism, royalism and exploitation) reappear, inverted and returned full with working class hatred and humour.