Despite The Sun: Wapping and the Print Unions
(Film/Video, Spectacle, September 1987)
In January 1986 Rupert Murdoch moved News International, publishers of the Sun and the Sunday Times, from Fleet Street to Wapping in East London. Over 5,000 print workers, clerical staff, cleaners and secretaries were sacked in one day. Despite the Sun is a montage and eyewitness account of the year long dispute which shook the newspaper industry. Picture and sound quality is not broadcast standard but the unique insight and eyewitness accounts make up for this. (from £8.00)
Produced from the point of view of the residents and print workers we see the effects on Wapping residents harassed by the police, Murdoch's lorries and cavalry-like horse charges on the picket lines. Ownership and control of the press is discussed, media access, and impact of the so called 'new technology'.
One of the first camcorder activist tapes it sold over 400 copies and was 'bootlegged' (with the blessing of Despite TV) by the pickets and sold on picket lines. This is an historical account of a dispute that's effects will be felt for many years to come, one that was over-simplified by the media at the time.
'The video knows that one telling image is worth a thousand words and sequences like the riot dressed mounted police trotting through Wapping to the homely reassuring tune of East Enders and the sheer boredom of daily picketing caught in a collage of images set to choral music, mean you can all but smell the vile fumes of TNT diesel.'
Nigel Willmott The Tribune
'On 24th January 1986 some 6000 British Trade Unionists went on strike after months of protracted negotiation with their employers, News International and Times Group Newspapers. The company management was seeking a legally binding agreement at their new plant in Wapping which incorporated flexible working, a no- strike clause, new technology and the abandonment of the closed shop.
Immediately after the strike was announced, dismissal notices were served on all those taking part in the industrial action. As part of a plan that had been developed over many months, the company replaced the workforce with members of the EETPU and transferred its four major titles (the Times, the Sunday Times, the Sun and the News of the World) to the Wapping plant. And so began the Wapping Dispute.
In support of their dismissed members, the print unions organised regular marches and demonstrations at the company's premises. They also called for a boycott of the four newspapers involved. As the dispute gathered momentum a large-scale police operation was mounted to ensure that the Wapping plant could operate effectively.
"In 1987 the strike finally collapsed. With it the restrictive trade union practices associated with the traditional Fleet Street publishing empires also collapsed and the Trade Union movement in Britain was irrevocably changed. The actions of News International and its proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, together with the EETPU and the police were widely criticised - in particular the heavy-handed policing methods that had been employed. Local residents in Wapping were largely viewed by the police as sympathetic to the case of the strikers, and were frequently denied access to their streets and homes. The strike also co-incided with the redevelopment of the Docklands (of which Wapping is a part) and the influx of 'Yuppies' - the affluent young attracted by opportunities in the burgeoning City.
I was a local resident during the dispute and was arrested for taking photos (on charges which were subsequently dismissed, with costs awarded against the police). I saw many people assaulted by police or arrested on trumped-up charges, and witnessed policemen committing perjury on an astonishing scale.
This was a dispute with heroes and villains, although they were not always on opposite sides. Many of the local police struggled valiantly to maintain good community relations even as their colleagues drafted in from elsewhere acted to destroy them; the working practices perpetuated by both management and unions in Fleet Street had for years been appallingly corrupt and continued to be during the dispute; and some journalists and photographers behaved in ways that often left a very unpleasant impression of their professions. However, although the behaviour of some of the striking workers and their supporters sometimes left much to be desired (their attitude to female colleagues, for instance), it was from within their ranks that many everyday acts of decency and courage occurred.'