Print Subversion in the Wapping Dispute

The Sack

Friday, 24 January 1986 6000 print workers are sacked by Rupert Murdoch’s News International Group.

The Wapping Dispute was effectively a short strike followed by mass sacking, a lock-out and then one long year of picketing. Murdoch didn't just sack the printers, but drivers, electricians, compositors, and the few journalists and other workers who refused the move because of the poorer conditions, or in solidarity with the sacked staff. Murdoch swiftly instituted computerisation at Wapping, he also ceased using the rail distribution network shared with other papers and instead used his own private distribution using TNT vans. Since News International staff were sacked without redundancy pay, their central negotiating tactic to either gain severance or get their jobs back meant trying to ensure the new Wapping plant couldn't operate, with a second priority to try to encourage the rest of Fleet Street out on strike in the knowledge that success for Murdoch's tactics would mean their jobs would be next. Picketing was not solely focused on Wapping but also took place at News International at Kinning Park, Glasgow, where the News of the World was printed and at TNT distrtibution depots in Cardiff, Kent, Southampton and elsewhere. Over 1986 and into early-1987 the Wapping picketers saw support from other Fleet Street workers, the local community in Cable Street, miners from all over the country and a range of workers from other sectors, the unemployed, anarchist and ultra-left groups.

    'On 24 January 1986, 6,000 newspaper workers at Murdoch’s News International (NI) – including printers, engineers, electricians, journalists and clerical staff – went on strike following stalled negotiations over a move to the newly-built Wapping plant. The response of management was to dismiss all of those involved; and so began one of the most protracted disputes in British labour industrial history, taking more than a year for the exhausted unions to finally admit defeat.'
    Source: Red Pepper

    'Today, Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers have plumbed new depths in debasing the British media. Revelations of industrial-scale phone hacking at the News of the World and corruption of the police and national politics have exposed the malign influence and power of a global media empire. The decades-long accumulation of power came dramatically to a head with the year-long dispute. It was when negotiations broke down that the strike began, and production of the papers was shifted overnight to new, non-union printworks at Kinning Park and Wapping with the sacking of 5,500 employees.Murdoch’s vast resources, coupled with Conservative anti-union legislation had enabled the company to equip and staff the two plants in secret, with strike-breaking labour recruited by the electricians’ union in an act of treachery unparalleled in labour movement history.'
    Source: The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom

    A letter sent 26 December 1985 prior to the strike to the managing director of News International from Farrer and Co., the solicitors to the Queen, reveals the calculating cynicism by which Murdoch operated. 'If a moment came when it was necessary to dispense with the present workforce', the letter advised, 'the cheapest way of doing so would be to dismiss employees while participating in a strike or other industrial action'.
    Source: The Centre for Printing History and Culture