“Print workers’ gag holds key to media decline”

The following is a letter published on the Morning Star website Sunday 21 August and in the newspaper on 22 August written by retired Unite national officer Ann Field. Ann was a London official of Sogat at the time of the Wapping dispute. She is currently involved Unite’s critically acclaimed exhibition on the 25th Anniversary of the News International dispute, which has recently been on display at the TUC Congress House and will next be on display at the Labour Party Conference at the Unite Office in Liverpool before moving onto other venues.

“Gregor Gall (Journo’s end, M Star August 4) misses the point.

Workers in the press and media industry remain muffled by government and employers using and enforcing anti-trade union laws. New Labour’s failure to remove these instruments of suffocation was unforgivable.

Gregor focuses on only one section of media workers, journalists. It was the much-maligned print and publishing unions which challenged press filth and lies.

Whether it was the publication of racist cartoons or articles libelling trade unionists during the 1970s and ’80s, there were regular confrontations over content.

Some of the famed Fleet Street stoppages were over issues raised by production and clerical chapels demanding the withdrawal of some smear or outrageous insult.

One example was the notorious Jak cartoon in the Evening Standard, another at The Observer and elsewhere over the Grunwick dispute. There were several instances during the 1984-85 miners’ strike at Murdoch’s and other newspapers.

Magazine company Reed Business Publishing declined the contractual renewal of apartheid-era South African Airways’ advertising following union members’ protests and stoppages.

This type of union action came to an end during the second half of the ’80s after a comprehensive attack on trade union rights, including the outlawing of solidarity action.

The last time there was a general shutdown in Fleet Street was in 1982 in an act of solidarity with the NHS and health workers.

Print workers challenging content of newspapers was “solidarity action” for very obvious reasons.

Fleet Street workers continued to flout the anti-solidarity laws until the mass clearout of organised workers begun by Murdoch with Wapping and continued by Maxwell, Associated Newspapers and the rest.

During our own disputes we produced newspapers – The Times Challenger, Not the Sunday Times, and the Wapping Post. During the miners’ dispute Sun and News of the World trade unionists produced the newspaper Right of Reply to counter the travesty of journalism about the struggle printed in national newspapers.

Exhorting journalists to fight for better newspaper and media reporting is one component in this vital issue of democracy, but it will only achieve results if production and admin workers are also able to intervene in the process. The key for all media workers is trade union rights”.

See also : The Workers Story by Ivan Beavis in the Morning Star
Well worth reading as well :  ‘Bad News – The Wapping Dispute – by John Lang and Graham Dodkins

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