Print Subversion in the Wapping Dispute

News on Sunday

26th April 1987 News on Sunday a populist leftist weekly newspaper is launched and folds within 8 weeks.

The Wapping Post began circulating on 18 May 1986 and was printed again in June 1987. Despite the dispute with News International being long over, throughout 1987 there was still strong feeling around Wapping and strong networks of solidarity around the printworkers struggle. Moreover the impact on other Fleet Street newspapers of Murdoch's tactics was being felt as a slew of other papers broke union agreements and began moving to new premises in and around London Docklands.

The Post seems to have tried to capitalise on this by printing an 'election special' in mid-87, and the idea for a populist left newpaper seemed to still have momentum in some circles. While a stream of underground left publications spoofed the tabloid format in order to undermine the sexism and nationalism rampant in the national press, the Wapping Post adopted a more ambivalent pose, appropriating and mirroring the language of the tabloids but using the pantomime dynamics to simply reverse the hero/villain roles. In the first issue, printed to coincide with May Day 1986, page 3 features 'PC fiona' couched in cartoon class misogyny. In the June issue there is a page about a letter sent by the Post to the Queen being acknowedged and following it shortly (on page 9) is an attempt to denounce Murdoch as an American, 'Are you British? [...] don't buy the Sun' the paper admonishes its working readers!

After the Wapping Dispute, Wapping Post editor Keith Sutton and Mirror Journalist, John Pilger became involved in a project for a weekly tabloid for the left, to challenge the emerging right wing hegemony in the News industry.

Big Flame was a libertarian socialist group (1970-1984), whose members were active at the Ford plants at Halewood and Dagenham, for which Mayday holds substantial physical and online collections. After the group ended, some of its members also got involved in an ambitious project, which drew its legitimacy from the Wapping Dispute, to begin a regular Sunday tabloid for the left.

    'Possibly the most ambitious project to come out of Big Flame was News on Sunday. The aim was to set up a radical campaigning tabloid Sunday newspaper, to challenge the right-wing domination of the media. It was created, and launched on 26th April 1987. We raised £6.5 million. And lost it all in 6 weeks, though continued to publish for a further six months – funded by the TGWU in partnership with the eccentric millionaire Owen Oyston.

    The idea came from Ben Lowe, and was first set out in the Big Flame discussion bulletin in 1978. His idea was to go beyond the ambitions of newspapers like Socialist Worker and the Morning Star and establish a paper that was a popular tabloid – selling in the newsagent alongside the mainstream press. His belief was that, if we could establish sales of 100,000, it could be commercially viable. He was to be joined by Alan Hayling (a long-time Big Flame member who had been a TV producer before going to work at Ford on the assembly line), who fronted the project, built alliances and co-ordinated the raising of the funding that made it possible. Source: Big Flame Website

However, the project failed spectacularly, after only eight weeks. In Spring 1989 a scathing write up published in Solidarity journal as a review of several books analysing News on Sunday, Wapping and the origins of the Independent newspaper. There are many lessons to learn about the media from Wapping, arguably the 'failure' of News on Sunday is as much part of that story just as the 'success' of Picket is.