The company had everything set up for the strike: a new workforce, a fortified workplace and a road transport contract to distribute Murdoch's newspapers. He had a guarantee of police support as brutal as needed to stop effective picketing, and the law was on his side, thanks to a series of anti-union measures brought in by Margaret Thatcher's Tory government.
Six major Acts of Parliament between 1980 and 1993 were at the core of Thatcher's project to destroy trade unions in pursuit of her vision of a competitive rather than a collective society.
She had no more fervent support than from Murdoch and his newspapers, especially The Sun, and few employers benefited more from these new laws. His plans for the Wapping dispute were built on their provisions. By 1986 there had been four particular changes that impacted directly on it:
- 1980 Employment Act outlawed secondary action, or sympathy strikes in support of other workers.
- This act also limited picket lines to six workers, making picketing ineffective, especially at big workplaces such as Wapping where huge trucks and a 2000-strong scab workforce were crossing picket lines daily.
- 1982 Employment Act limited grounds for industrial action to pay, jobs and conditions of the workers concerned. So-called political strike action was made illegal.
- The 1982 Act also made unions liable in law for damages arising from disputes. Up to £250,000 could be seized by the courts, or sequestered, from union funds.
In addition, the 1986 Public Order Act introduced criminal offences related to picketing. Anyone attempting to organise an effective picket line could face arrest or jail.
Farrer's, News International's legal advisers, spelt out the benefits of these new anti-union laws in the notorious letter that was leaked to unions during the strike.
You can view the 25th Anniversary Wapping Post article here.