The Day the Time(s) stood still!

On Friday January 24 1986 the print union members at Rupert Murdoch’s Times, Sunday Times, Sun and News of the World went on strike over the introduction of new technology and were sacked. 

This was the climax of a plot, no other word for it, by Murdoch when preparing two print plants in London and Glasgow with the technology needed and the of recruiting, secretly, of staff to work the plants.

The outcomes were to have a profound effect not only on the newspaper industry but on print in general and other industries.

The “new(ish)  technology would see copy written, sub-edited and headlines fixed on screen by journalists. It meant complete papers could be sent electronically readied for the printing. Thus the loss of 5.500 print workers jobs.

The relations between the Journalists and the printers (“the Inkies”) in. the words of an NUJ member who refused to go to Wapping – a Refusnic.: “When the printers were sacked there was little sympathy for their plight among the journalists.”

Never the less the then NUJ general secretary Harry Conroy proposed at a National Executive emergency session, “an instruction not to cross the print workers picket lines” was approved.

Wapping was ready when on the Friday night the choice was spelt out by their editors. Move to there and work the new technology replacing the printers in exchange for a £2,000 pay rise and by now free health insurance.(a promise of a swimming pool on site! Never happened.) Refuse, become a Refusnic, and they would be regarded as having ‘dismissed themselves.’

The Sun and the News of the World chapels voted by large majorities to bow to the ultimatum. The Times Chapel held two long and tense meetings on the days after the sackings.

Ian Griffiths a Refusnic and a Times business reporter in the Guardian 20 years later recalling the meetings wrote “it seemed like a simple decision. The free and independent press I cherished was incompatible with Rupert Murdoch’s view that Times journalists should go to work in an armoured bus and report on the world’s affairs from a ghetto ringed with barbed wire and security guards.”

Murdoch’s move to Wapping was just a calculated, cynical and clever means of invoking in perpetuity and without question management’s right to manage.

The journalists in meetings over the two days was eloquent and articulate. But for all the posturing, the bluster there was no hiding from the ultimate reality. Murdoch’s move to Wapping was just a calculated, cynical and clever means of invoking in perpetuity and without question management’s right to manage.

It set the tone for a compliant and non-confrontational press. Dealt a body blow to journalism from which we have not yet fully recovered. Technology made newspaper production cheaper, not better. It did not herald the dawn of a golden age.” Ian Griffiths concluded.

(The Times vote in favour of going into Wapping was passed On the Sunday the Sunday Times voted by 68 to 60 to go to work.)

Ian Griffiths was right Left in the hands of Murdoch and his ilk newspapers readers nationally, regionally and locally when facing the instant news avenue media chose a poorly staffed low quality product, something even Woolworth’s failed at.

The promised golden age for journalists at the time of Wapping has turned out for many sweat shop conditions.

This is an extract of my autobiography being prepared for publication later this year. Roy Jones.end


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