Back Issues 20.01.06

Beginning of the end for Fleet Street

It was the beginning of the end for Fleet Street. News International
was planning to print a 24-page jobs supplement for The Sunday Times at
its new Wapping plant without using members of the established print
unions, the NGA and Sogat. Both unions were holding ballots over their
claims for extra pay, no compulsory redundancies, and jobs for life.
Press Gazette described the coming weekend as the most critical for
Fleet Street since the turn of the century.

Matthews warns of fight

In an interview with Press Gazette, NI managing director Bruce
Matthews warned that Rupert Murdoch meant business and the print
unions, if they really wanted it, were in for a fight. Matthews said
that because of lack of print capacity The Sunday Times had been
restricted to 80 pages and the News of the World to 64. With new
launches on the horizon, including Eddy Shah’s Today, Matthews said it
was likely existing publications would lose out because there was no
big growth in the newspaper market. “If the trade union movement in
Fleet Street doesn’t understand this marketing and these economics,
then it’s a kind of suicidal situation,” he said.

Confrontation looms

Towards the end of January it was clear that the biggest confrontation in the history of Fleet Street was about to begin. Talks
between Rupert Murdoch and leaders of the NGA and Sogat had broken up
at the Park Lane Hotel after only two hours. The unions had seen the
meeting as the last chance to re-open talks on Wapping, but Murdoch
described the atmosphere as “explosive and not suitable for careful and
considered negotiations”. Members of the electricians’ union, the
EETPU, had already been taken on to man Wapping. Although the NGA and
Sogat had rejected Murdoch’s demand for a no-strike agreement at
Wapping, they did make counter proposals which they claimed were the
best deal offered to a national newspaper owner. But Murdoch said
simply: “It’s all too late. If they had come to us with that two years
ago we would probably have been delighted, but not now.”

Unions pinned into corner

A leader by the then Press Gazette editor, Charles Wintour,
predicted victory for Murdoch. He wrote: “It is true that News
International may not be able to bring out and distribute complete
editions of all the titles. But management and staff, some specially
hired for the purpose, have been preparing for full-scale operation
over a period of months, and despite initial problems they can expect
to get most of their papers out. In consequence it is beyond the
capacity of the print unions to inflict a mortal blow on the finances
of News International. On the contrary, by striking and thus courting
instant dismissal, they are likely to improve the profit and loss
account immensely. Virtually all the cards are in Mr Murdoch’s hands.”
Wintour claimed: “The two major print unions pinned themselves into a
corner over Wapping. Now they are involved in a tragedy of their own
making.” He concluded: “It is a dispute that now can have only one end.
Fleet Street indeed will never be the same again.”

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