From the Morning Star, April 30th
By Ivan Beavis
Throughout May, the Marx Memorial Library in London’s Clerkenwell is hosting a remarkable exhibition to mark the 25th anniversary of the Wapping dispute, one of the most bitter in labour movement history.
The owner of News International, Rupert Murdoch, aided and abetted by the scab EEPTU union and the recently enacted Thatcher anti-union laws, was able to sack 6,000 well-organised trade union members and move the production of his national newspapers to a purpose-built fortress in Wapping.
For over a year the sacked workers mounted a 24-hour picket seven days a week and faced the vicious might of a state which was determined that they should be defeated.
The exhibition celebrates this struggle with posters, flyers and pictures produced during the long ordeal and demonstrates the extraordinary creativity of ordinary people even in the most difficult circumstances. They even produced their own newspaper The Wapping Post and copies of this and all of the literature is proudly on display.
However the exhibition is not a nostalgic exercise to celebrate yet another defeat for the working class. Rather it seeks to remind us all of what happened then and how it impacts on our lives today.
As with the miners a year before the Wapping dispute, Thatcher’s anti-trade union laws outlawed solidarity action by fellow workers which could have scuppered Murdoch’s plans.
It enabled the assets of SOGAT one of the unions involved, to be seized and workers and
their families were forced to rely on local financial support in order to survive.
The police were given carte blanche to attack peaceful demonstrators and take whatever action was necessary to break their will, including the use of snatch squads and informers and spies within the unions in order to try to disrupt lawful activities.
Anyone who thinks that kettling is a new tactic just thought up by the plod should realise that confinement in small spaces with no escape was a familiar experience for those attending the regular Wednesday and Saturday support activities outside the plant.
Harassment of local residents was routine and all traffic controls were abandoned to allow Murdoch’s rogue road haulage firm TNT to hurtle through the streets to get News International titles out on sale.
The level playing field for all newspapers irrespective of circulation to be distributed together by rail was destroyed, forcing newspapers to road transport, at an astronomical cost.
We are paying the price today for our inability to be able to overcome this media monster. Murdoch’s grip on free speech tightens ever more as he seeks 100 per cent ownership of his BSB conglomerate, aided by his government minister crony Jeremy Hunt.
The staging of the exhibition at the library during May and later at the TUC Congress House and at the new Unite union office in Liverpool gives us all an opportunity to reflect on the major struggles we will have to fight for to restore a free and fair society. Labour must be prevailed upon to restore our basic right to be able to take action in solidarity with fellow workers.
What these photographs and texts remind us is that the struggle to maintain free speech and access to a diverse media must encompass a continued struggle to prevent Murdoch and his ilk from continuing to dominate ownership of the written and broadcast media and what we are allowed to think.
Come and see this exhibition. Remember with pride the selfless struggle that the print workers and their families waged 25 years ago in the knowledge that their example must be followed again and again until fairness and justice for all has been achieved.