Picketing

Picketing had three aims: to persuade those who had opted to transfer to Wapping under Murdoch’s terms to join the dispute, to stop the lorries laden with newspapers coming out of Wapping, and to prevent Murdoch’s newspapers going into or out of the wholesale distribution depots.

The company quickly secured a court order to ban all picketing other than at the original places of work – now empty buildings - in accordance with the new laws introduced by the Tory government to limit trade union action to the least possible point of effectiveness. The pickets at the Wapping gate were notional, being limited to six and mostly unable to speak to occupants of cars and lorries waved through heavily guarded gates. Demonstrators seeking to join the picket or block the main or side roads were held back from the road leading to the gate of Fortress Wapping by large numbers of riot and mounted police. 

At Wapping the picket at the gate was maintained day and night throughout the dispute. The two winters of the dispute were bitterly cold and several small caravans and a double-decker bus were parked in a small square opposite the plant by dispute organisers and chapels to provide shelter and refreshment, and refuge and first aid when required. The unions also maintained a picket at the other non-union NI plant at Kinning Park in Glasgow.

The London SOGAT wholesale ban on handling Murdoch’s titles was solid. But News International had set up a shadow distribution company that had a contract with TNT to bypass the normal, union-organised system of distribution by national rail and local roads. Non-union self-employed drivers in vans that became known as “white mice” distributed the Murdoch newspapers in the London area.

Most of the other picketing took place at TNT depots and at distributors WH Smith, Menzies, and Surridge Dawson and smaller wholesalers outside London, where the four titles were still handled. Strikers volunteered for flying-picket duties at all these sites, with some success. The effort and risks associated with these trips were much appreciated.

There was other smaller-scale picketing or lobbying of conferences where representatives of News International or scab union EETPU members were present.

The company obtained further restrictions on picketing in court in July 1986. But picketing and demonstrating had continued and the company’s renewed pursuit of the unions for damages and contempt of court led to the end of the dispute in February 1987.