Reflections

 

 

Marching to an ancient beat

Gloved hands, socked feet, shaken and stirred against a stinging wind; blue eyes, cheeks, noses, blue Language shared and roared on another raw day outside the Wapping plant. Those insiders are outsiders, bussed and bribed in to input words on a page, ideas into minds, sans serif fonts, sans veritas ni corazon; a shell, a sham, coated and cased in a scab of shame. Outside pounding horses and riot police/army lunge towards us, black batons raised. Stop them! Those men, women and children who shiver, stand or march, drink tea and gather under banners, faces open to the world, to say: “Those are our jobs.” Weeks pass, months, a year. But still they gather beneath walls of barbed words, wired up to lorry-loads of “get-them-out-at-any-cost.” Newspaper cover price now reduced to fear, injuries, heart attacks, grief, dole and deaths. Inside the fortress they try to sleep in peace for 25 years. But times change: outside the horse of progress gallops on, throws off his rider dressed in blue – we don’t need You, either; join the queue. Young hearts and minds share ideas and knowledge in a web that spins wide around the world and march the streets to an ancient beat against cuts in jobs, services and benefits.

Marie Alvarado, striker sacked by News International

 
 

A cause I believed in

As with many strikers, Wapping was a time of mixed emotions for me – a time to remember who had got me into the privileged position I enjoyed, the responsibility I had to pass on those conditions and the support my union had given me from my earliest days in print. I recall that not everyone saw things my way, not even members of my own union who failed to see the consequences of their inaction, and then there was the pernicious political influence exerted on our efforts to stop Murdoch’s attack on workers’ rights. All this was an incentive to accept the consequences of fighting for a cause I believed in. I didn’t lose the fight with Murdoch, my beliefs in what we fought for were strengthened in spite of the chaos that ensued. Like many who stood beside and in front of me on numerous occasions when the odds were against us, I resolved to fight for the principles that led me from Fleet Street to Wapping.

John Bailey, striker sacked by News International

 
 

Murdoch made me militant

Why did we engineers strike? We were turned into militants by Murdoch. He put a gun to our heads! We had no choice but to fight.  The first march to Wapping was organised by the engineers. Was there a summer in 1986? I remember always being cold! There's a woman on the deck, the copper has his foot on her scarf, standing over her with his stick raised. I shoulder him off, he runs away. I'm between a brick wall and a horse's arse. The lads pull me out somehow. Twelve-month anniversary and as Maggie's thugs charge, one peels off to go for my wife. I get to her first and put my arm in the way. He runs away the tosser! Still none of us buys his papers but Blair and his cronies are "bought and sold for Murdoch's gold".

Jim Brookshaw, striker sacked by News International

 
 

So many families paid the price

It still takes my breath away – twenty five years later – to recall the deceit of the leaders of the electricians trade union (EEPTU) to recruit and train in secret, and then agree to steal fellow trade union members' jobs at Wapping. Without that treachery News International could never have pulled off moving its papers from Fleet Street to Wapping. Bullying journalists, sacking librarians and enlisting the police as a willing and brutal militia would all have been pointless if the production had not been made possible by the biggest act of blacklegging in trade union history. And the anti-trade union laws of that time allowed it all to happen. A quarter of a century later it remains an indictment that so many decent working newspaper families paid the price and carry the scars and memories of that tragic year in the history of SOGAT and of newspaper printing.

Brenda Dean, former General Secretary SOGAT

 
 

The greater part of us

The dispute dominated our lives. It haunted us wherever we went and whoever we were with. Everything else seemed insignificant. Rightly or wrongly, the everyday things our friends outside the strike did appeared trivial beside the harsh realities of Saturday nights at Wapping and living on Supplementary Benefit and when, inevitably, we got around to talking about the dispute, they couldn't comprehend our depth of feeling. But the strike had become, for better or worse, the greater part of us. Even those who sympathised with our stand could not be expected to display the same sort of commitment we did and if someone was actually hostile to the cause, it became very difficult to keep a friendship alive. The ground had shifted. It was no longer enough to have run together in the same school playground; to have grown up in the same street; to have shared good times and bad, because we felt it too deeply to be able to accept their dissension and go on as if nothing had changed.

Graham Dodkins, striker sacked by News International

 
 

An example to the whole movement

Murdoch, Eddy Shah and others claimed that the introduction of new technology would lead to a much wider diversity of ownership. Time has proved them to be completely wrong. There are now fewer national newspapers and a greater concentration of ownership of the press and media than in 1986, and the proposed takeover of BSkyB by Murdoch will further reduce that diversity. The Wapping Dispute and the experience in recent years of the print unions and their members have demonstrated beyond question that while new technology was the facade behind which Murdoch hid, his objectives in the Wapping Dispute were primarily related to his attempt to de-unionise his newspapers. Murdoch could never have achieved his ambitions without the active involvement of the Thatcher government through the use of new anti-union laws and by the government actively involving the police to ensure that Murdoch’s newspapers produced at the Wapping plant were distributed and delivered. Indeed, even with the advent of the 1997 Labour government and the introduction of some more positive legislation which enabled trade unions in certain circumstances to have recognition legally underwritten, an exclusion was provided which allowed Murdoch’s News International Staff Association at Wapping, which was fully funded and run by the company, to be excluded from the trade-union recognition legislation. The remarkable solidarity of those print union members during a dispute which lasted for more than a year was an example to the entire trade union movement. Murdoch and his outrageous behaviour will never be forgotten or forgiven.

Tony Dubbins, former General Secretary NGA and GPMU

 
 

The biggest demonstration ever

Within days of the dispute starting it became obvious that we would not be able to stop the distribution of the newspapers. In spite of the optimistic theory that the lorries were empty, one only had to see the piles of ‘Sun’ and ‘Times’ in the shops to know that this could not be true. The dispute would only be resolved by negotiation. Therefore, it was important to keep up the pressure; this we did by marches and demonstrations. In November, Murdoch made a ‘final’ offer. This offer had to be accepted within ten days or there would be nothing, it was very understandable why most people took the offer, up to that point everything Murdoch had said had been true. I don’t criticise or condemn anybody who accepted the offer, after eleven months in dispute many had problems, both personal and financial. In January, to mark the anniversary of the dispute we had the biggest demonstration ever! Yet a month later it was all over. A lot was made of the fact that unlike the miners, we had a ballot before we came out, the question was put why we did not have a ballot to end the strike – there did not seem to be any answer. In 1986 the government were frightened of Murdoch; in 2011 they are terrified of him.

Ron Garner, striker sacked by News International

 
 

I still don’t read it

I joined The Times in 1966, then the only woman reporter covering home news. When the Wapping dispute began 20 years later, I was a specialist correspondent covering race relations and disarmament. I was also part of the NUJ Chapel negotiating team. We were repeatedly told that it had nothing to do with us journalists, that they were planning a new evening paper, that the NUJ would be fully recognised at Wapping. The journalists were offered a brutal ultimatum – go to Wapping or be sacked. Fear led most Times Journalists to agree to go. Ten of us refused. I no longer read the paper, but I am told it is not what it was.  Although I never got back to being a specialist correspondent on a national newspaper, I carved out a decent career as a freelance journalist. And I am quite sure that I made the right decision in 1986 and have never regretted it.

Pat Healy, refusenik sacked by News International