Twenty years on, unions mull Murdochs flight from Fleet St

By Joanne Gardner, Thursday 19 January 2006

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Twenty years ago on Monday (23 January), Rupert Murdoch changed the face of the British newspaper and printing industry.

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In a calculated and secretive move, Murdoch moved The Times, Sunday Times, The Sun and News of the World overnight to the then high-tech site at Wapping, leaving behind the old ways of manual compositing and Linotype operating and causing a frenzy within the print unions.

A new world of computers and electronic typesetting could be found on the inside of what would soon be nicknamed "Fortress Wapping".
On the outside, however, was a different world: printers had been stripped of their livelihoods and a mass of angry strikers made the gates of Wapping their home for the next 13 months.

Head of Amicus GPMS Tony Burke was a member of the executive council of the National Graphical Association (NGA) at the time and attended several pickets.

He said despite journalists' retrospective tributes in this week's columns, the revolution was a "terrible time that caused a great deal of hardship and distress".

"It was a dispute of its time a dispute about maintenance of jobs and everything else that went with that. Changing the technology would have happened anyway, but Murdoch broke the back of unionism in Fleet Street," Burke said.

"Following on from Wapping, unions were de-recognised by the whole newspaper industry and there were massive amounts of downsizing," Burke said.

He added: "Clearly we're not involved in News International in any big way, but that's something we're working on."

NI is due to leave Wapping for Waltham Cross as it goes full colour in 2008.

Wapping timeline
- Autumn 1985 Rupert Murdoch gives print unions a three-month ultimatum to agree to heavy staff cuts, to which they responded with a ballot giving them the right to strike

- 18 January 1986 Murdoch printed a special section of the Sunday Times at Wapping 23 January 1986 The unions issue a strike but, overnight, Murdoch moves his papers from Bouverie Street and Gray's Inn Road to Wapping, where hundreds of strikers soon form picket lines

- February 1986 More than 5,000 protesters try to storm the printing plant, resulting in 58 arrests and eight injured police

- March 1987 After 1,262 arrests and many more injuries, as well as some reported suicides, the strike finally ends after unions agree to accept redundancy deals

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