How Rupe got High and Mighty
with more than a little help from his friends
(photo Andrew Wiard, Report)
AS a judge makes an example of the young man who foam-pied Rupert Murdoch, sending him to jail,
we have a timely reminder of how the tycoon's power was firmly established in British politics as well as media when he sacked over 5,500 workers, and set up operations in his 'Fort Wapping', sans rights and sans unions.
The picture above of the Metropolitan Police cavalry riding to clear a path for Murdoch's papers is part of an exhibition about the Wapping dispute 25 years ago, now on show at the TUC 's headquarters in Congress House, Great Russel Street, WC1.
With photographs and publications from the time, the exhibition explains how the Australian-born billionaire transformed the ailing pro-Labour Sun with injections of topless models, and Tory jingoism, so that he was not only able to help Margaret Thatcher into government in 1979, but to use the £47 million profit he made from British newspapers in 1985 to boost his empire both sides of the Atlantic.
But to take on the unions which had won good conditions for printworkers on Fleet Street, and incidentally to slap down ideas like right of reply, editorial independence or integrity, making sure journos would jump when he said, Murdoch needed, and received, the help of his friends.
Between 1980 and 1993 Thatcher's government passed six major acts of parliament aimed at curbing the unions. The 1980 Employment Act limited the right to picket and outlawed "secondary", or sympathy strikes. The 1982 Employment Act limited the grounds on which workers could take action - so if workers took action over political issues - like arming Apartheid, say, or the release of prisoners, or even the NHS, - that can be deemed illegal. Up to £250,00 could be sequestered from union funds by the courts.
The 1984 Trade Union Act compelled unions to hold ballots before calling strike action, and thus enabled employers to plan their moves, while as we know judges can find all sorts of pettifogging conditions and excuses to interfere even when a union has gone through the procedure. The 1986 Public Order Act introduced criminal offences related to picketing, thus strengthening the police and rendering pickets and organisers liable to arrests and jail. (News International Wapping -25 Years On, The Workers' Story).
Before the bosses moved they took legal advice from Farrars solicitors, who said "...if a moment came when it was necessary to dispense with the present workforces...the cheapest way of doing so would be to dismiss employees while participating in a strike or industrial action." Staff at the Times and Sunday Times were not even aware at first that they would be affected by the move to Wapping. But one trade union did know all about it. The right-wing EETPU was in on Murdoch's plan, and to the disgust of many of its members, not least electricians on Fleet Street, was actually recruiting workers from elsewhere to man the Wapping plant.
Though many workers rallied to the side of the printworkers in this struggle, they were unable to defeat a ruthless capitalist employer who had at his side the law and the state. Within days of the dispute starting News International had court decisions forbidding solidarity action. Unions were fined if members took action to support the sacked workers by refusing to handle News International papers' transport and distribution. Within weeks the assets and funds of SOGAT, the main printing union, were seized or sequestered.
Outside the Wapping plant, mounted police wielding batons rode into the crowds of p[ickets and supporters. Hundreds of people were injured. Some 1,435 people were arrested, and four men were jailed, among them SOGAT pickets leader Mike Hicks, arrested in a dawn raid on his home and sentenced to a year in prison, with eight months suspended. So bad did the police presence get, that with buses terminated at Aldgate, and local residents held up at road blocks, while Murdoch's trucks sped through their streets, Wapping residents -some of whom also experienced police violence and arrests - held their own demonstration to 'Reclaim Our Streets'.
The organisers of the exhibition are clear they don't want to look back mournfully on this past defeat, from which we have all suffered lasting effects, but to strengthen and inspire the fights today, not just against the billionaire media and their friends, or the Con-Dem cuts, but to win from Labour a firm commitment to restore our employment and union rights. We may have different ideas as to what this entails or whether we want to rely on Labour. All the same, having seen how the last Labour government conserved the Tory anti-union laws, and heard Ed Miliband say he wants to reduce the say unions have in the Labour Party, this too is a timely aspect to discuss.
The exhibition is on until August 12 at the TUC, and well worth a visit - handy for lunchtime if you are working in town, and just around the corner from Tottenham Court Road tube and on the way to the British Museum if you are on a holiday visit. You'll find some friendly people who were there at the time of the Wapping dispute available for a chat, or to swap reminiscence, and you can also buy souvenir badges and books.
The exhibition is at TUC Congress House, London WC1B 3LS. open Monday-Friday 10am-6pm until 12 August.After this it is going on tour, with a showing at Jack Jones House in Liverpool in the week of the Labour Party conference.
An Eye for the Truth
ANOTHER exhibition, another anniversary. Carlo Giuliani was killed by police at a G8 demonstration ten years ago in Genoa. Jess Hurd was there and won't forget what she saw, and because Jess is a photographer, who captured this image of the young man lying on the ground, neither will we.
Jess Hurd works with a variety of campaigning grass-roots organisations, and gets around with her camera recording the truth, in this country and abroad, the triumphs as well as tragedies, and sometimes those funny little insights too. Jess has also been a leading person in the campaign "I am a photographer not a terrorist", fighting off attempts by the police to treat people taking photographs as though they were breaking the law.
Showing an individual artist can also do collective action, Jess is chair of the London Photographers' branch of the National Union of Journalists. The photograph of Carlo Giuliani above is among a selection of her pictures - by no means all of sad subjects - on show in her exhibition 'Taking the Street -Global Protest', which I've been to see in Harrow.
The Usurp Art Gallery showing it is at 149 Vaughan Road, HA1 4EB. near West Harrow station on the Metropolitan Line. It is open Thursday to Sunday 2- 7pm, The photo exhibition is on till August 28. For more information on this and other events see their website: