Bitter battle at Wapping: scenes at the frontline

Wapping THE ‘REFUSENIKS’ Compiled by Lou Thomas, Zoe Smith & Paul McNally


David Felton, labour editor at The Times, now runs David Felton Media Consultancy

labour journalists like myself, Don McIntyre and Barrie Clement, this
dispute was meat and drink to us, as it was our job to cover this
field. There was no way we could continue to have a relationship with
the trade unions if we had decided to go to Wapping.


Paul Routledge, Southeast Asia correspondent for The Times, now political columnist at the Daily Mirror

was in the Philippines at the time covering the downfall of President
Marcos. I only found out about the move to Wapping when I tried to file
my copy through Reuters. Half a million people had just overturned that
pig of a tyrant Marcos and all they had was their bare hands. I thought
to myself: “If the Philippinos can do it then surely it’s my duty to
stand up against this dictator.”


Barrie Clement, labour reporter, The Times, now The Independent’s transport editor

refused to go out of loyalty to the union movement and loyalty to
colleagues who’d been supplanted by a scab army at Wapping. It was a
difficult decision to make in the sense that I had three young children
and a foster child to support as well as a mortgage to pay, but for me
there was only one decision to be made.


Huckerby, assistant foreign editor at The Times, now consultant at the
Thomson Foundation – World Media Training and Consultancy

I wasn’t somebody who wanted particularly to appear on the picket lines.

didn’t support the trade union recalcitrance towards new technology,
but equally I couldn’t support what Murdoch had done to The Times and
the way he’d dragged the paper down.


Miles Hedley, newsdesk sub-editor The Sun, now semi-retired

chose to leave for not very popular reasons. We were all classed as
working-class heroes, but I was just horrified at the way we were
treated. Kelvin MacKenzie came down and basically said, you’re coming
to Wapping or fuck the lot of you. I refused to be treated like that.


Tony Levene, Sunday Times, now at Guardian Money

I resisted due to a mixture of principle, bloody-mindedness and dislike of Andrew Neil.

back on it, the thought of working behind barbed wire didn’t seem like
a good idea on the principles side. I think The Sunday Times had the
highest number of refuseniks due to the Andrew Neil factor.


French, assistant literary editor, The Sunday Times, columnist for the
New Statesman, now writes fiction under the name Nicci French

idea of firing the print workers, however ghastly their behaviour was,
just seemed totally objectionable. It shows you what a different era it
was that the sacking of staff for commercial reasons was thought of as
shocking. Even at the time we knew it was a futile gesture.


Mike Topp, features sub on The Sun, now chief sub of The Guardian comment and letters pages

one thing I’ll always be grateful to Rupert Murdoch for. Until I worked
for him I didn’t really understand how power operates. Being on his
payroll provided lessons on an almost daily basis.

I supported
the NUJ’s position, that we had to negotiate new working conditions
before any move, not after. I felt solidarity with the 6,000 who were
sacked. But the bottom line was personal, between me and Murdoch. He
had calculated that by threatening to sack me he could force me to go
to Wapping. I simply decided that I wasn’t going to be bullied. I’ve
never, not for an instant, regretted the decision.


Paul Webster, chief sub, The Sunday Times business desk, now deputy editor, The Observer

refused to go because I thought it was wrong. I recognised that there
was a massive issue with the way the unions were resisting change in
technology, but the way the company was treating its employees was not
acceptable. It was easier for me. I was 20 years younger with no
mortgage or family to support.


Pat Healy, race relations and disarmament correspondent at The Times, now freelance

could not accept that all of our working terms and conditions would be
torn up overnight and that everyone else would be sacked. I was an
active member of the NUJ and I supported the cause of the printers
wholeheartedly. I made the right choice because it was about being able
to live with yourself.


Brian Whitaker, joint investigations editor, The Sunday Times, now Middle East editor, The Guardian

was a time of taking sides, losing friends, discovering inner strengths
and weaknesses and being obliged, against our will, to make choices
that would affect our lives and livelihoods for years ahead. A time of
restless nights and tormented days when no attempt to write, read or
eat could divert us from the inescapable question: which way shall I
jump? Yes, if I tried hard enough there were reasons to justify working
at Wapping, but they never sounded convincing.


Don MacIntyre, labour editor, The Times, now The Independent’s Middle East correspondent

was one of those rare moments when journalists had some real power and
by taking a stand, as I’ve always suspected Rupert Murdoch expected
them to, could have secured some better conditions, and maybe even some
guarantees, for what they would have been worth, of editorial
independence. But the majority voted to go in because, all too
understandably, they blamed the print unions for the crisis arising in
the first place. We on the labour desk would not have been able to do
our jobs properly from inside Wapping.


Lewis Chester, features writer, The Sunday Times, now an author

just thought the 5,000 workers involved had been diddled out of their
redundancy. I wasn’t against the technology, but I was against people
being laid off without any money.

I don’t blame people who did stay on, but for me it would have been an absolute violation of everything I believed in.


Richard Davies, sub-editor, News of The World, now night editor, The Northern Echo

hated the way people were given an ultimatum, ‘Go, you’ve got no
choice.’ Also, I didn’t fancy going to work and having a brick thrown
at me.


1. Proprietor Rupert Murdoch holds copies of
his papers The Sun and The Times, at his then new high-technology print
works in Wapping

2. On 13 February, 1986, print workers protest
over job cuts in the industry. Pickets clash with police during another
night vigil outside Murdoch’s plant. More than 40 people were said to
have been arrested as pickets unsuccessfully attempted to prevent
lorries carrying The Sun and The Times from the works

3. A notice explaining the security measures at the entrance to the plant

4. Press photographer Andrew Moore carried away unconscious after being truncheoned during a police charge against pickets

5. More demonstrators fight with police during disturbances which, on this occasion, resulted in some 60 arrests

Assistant Commissioner (public order) Wyn Jones displays to the press
some of the missiles thrown at police during picket-line violence

No comments to display

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *