Wapping dispute

Tony Dubbins, General Secretary of the National Graphical Association, on the picket line during the Wapping dispute

The Wapping dispute was a lengthy failed strike by print workers in London in 1986.

Print unions tried to block distribution of The Sunday Times, along with other newspapers in Rupert Murdoch's News International group, after production was shifted to a new plant in Wapping in January 1986.

At the new facility, modern computer facilities allowed journalists to input copy directly, rather than involving print union workers who used older "hot-metal" Linotype printing methods. All of the workers were dismissed. The failure of the strike was devastating for the print union workers, and it led both to a general decline in trade union influence in the UK, and to a widespread adoption of modern newspaper publishing practices.

Political significance

Along with the miners' strike of 1984-5, the Wapping dispute was a significant defeat in the history of the British trade union movement. The 51-week miners' strike of 1984-85 was followed a year later by the 54-week "Wapping dispute" launched by newspaper printers in London.[1] It resulted in a second major defeat for unions and another victory for Thatcher's union policies, especially her assurance that the police would defend the plants against pickets trying to shut them down.[2] The target was Britain's largest privately owned newspaper empire, News International (parent of The Times and News of the World and others, all owned by Rupert Murdoch). He wanted to introduce technological innovations that would put 90% of the old-fashioned typesetters out of work. The company offered redundancy payments of £2,000 to £30,000 to each printer to quit their old jobs. The union rejected the offer and on 24 January 1986 its 6,000 members at Murdoch's papers went on strike. Meanwhile News International had built and clandestinely equipped a new printing plant in the London district of Wapping. The principal print unions – the National Graphical Association (NGA), the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (SOGAT 82) and the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers (AUEW) – ran closed shops: only union members could be hired at the old Fleet Street plants; most were sons of members. However the new plant in Wapping did not have a closed shop contract. The company activated its new plant with the assistance of another union the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union (EETPU). Most members of the National Union of Journalists moved to Wapping and NUJ Chapels continued to operate. However the NUJ urged its members journalists not to work there. Many NUJ members, known as "refuseniks", refused to go to Wapping. Enough printers were employed --670 in all--to produce the same number of papers that it took 6,800 men to print at the old shop. The efficiency was obvious and frightened the union into holding out an entire year. Thousands of union pickets tried to block shipments out of the plant; they injured 574 policemen. There were 1,500 arrests. The pickets failed. The union tried an illegal secondary boycott and was fined in court, losing all its assets which had been used for pensions. In the next two years Britain's national newspapers opened new plants and abandoned Fleet Street, adopting the new technology with far fewer employees. They had even more reason to support Thatcherism.[3][4][5]

Other Languages