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1986: Printers and police clash in Wapping

VIDEO : Report on the violent clashes at Wapping

Eight police officers have been injured and 58 people arrested in the worst outbreak of violence yet outside the News International printing plant in Wapping, east London.

One officer, a 27-year-old sergeant, was taken to hospital with head injuries.

Police estimated 5,000 demonstrators gathered near the printing works for a mass demonstration.

Similar mass protests have taken place regularly outside the Wapping plant ever since the start of a strike three weeks ago over new working conditions and the move from Fleet Street to cheaper premises in East London.

Summary dismissal

News International publishes some of Britain's best known newspapers - the Times, the Sunday Times, the Sun, and the News of the World.

Its owner, Australian press baron Rupert Murdoch, has been heavily criticised for his handling of the dispute.

He summarily dismissed the thousands of staff members who downed tools on 24 January, and brought in members of the maverick electricians union, the EETPU, to keep the printers running.

Ever since, the strike has become an increasingly violent and bitter battle between the printers, the police and Mr Murdoch.

Riot shields

For the first time since picketing began, police used riot shields during today's fighting, and mounted police were brought in to break up sections of the crowd.

Wyn Jones, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said, "We saw the classic example of honest well-intentioned union members supporting their cause being joined by diverse elements whose only interest was in causing as much trouble as possible.

"They were intent on disrupting business and assaulting officers."

Police barricades have been put up at entrances to the Wapping site, and traffic has been stopped from getting through apart from vans carrying copies of newspapers.

'Peaceful picketing' appeal

Michael Hicks, an official for the main union involved in the strike, Sogat '82, said today's turnout had been "magnificent", but added, "Unfortunately we had a handful of people who joined this march who did not carry out the instructions of the print workers' stewards."

The general secretary of Sogat '82, Brenda Dean, also condemned the violence.

She said, "If fringe people were responsible for violence, that is not helping our case. We would appeal to everyone to have peaceful picketing and demonstrating at Wapping."

In Context
The Wapping dispute was one of the most protracted and bitter in Britain's industrial history.

The picketing was exceptionally violent, with 1,262 arrests and 410 police injuries. The police were accused of being heavy-handed and aggressive in dealing with strikers and local residents.

The strike lasted a year, ending in February 1987 in ignominy for the print unions, near bankruptcy and under threat of court proceedings.

News International did not lose a single night of production during the strike.

Wapping effectively broke the power wielded by print unions over the newspaper industry.

It was the second time in as many years that major industrial action had failed, following the even more bitter miners' strike of 1984-1985.

Both strikes were held against a background of new legislation to curb the power of the unions, brought in by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

By 1988, all national newspapers had followed Rupert Murdoch away from Fleet Street to the newly-developed Docklands, and adopted new, cheaper computerised printing technology.


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