Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wapping Exhibition in New Cross

There's a fascinating exhibition at Goldsmiths College in New Cross to mark the 25th anniversary of the News International Wapping dispute. In 1986, Rupert Murdoch moved the production of The Sun and News of the World from Fleet Street to Wapping and sacked 5,500 production and clerical workers. Another 100 journalists lost their jobs when they refused to cross picket lines. In a bitter year long dispute, riot police were deployed against pickets outside the Wapping plant and many people were arrested and injured.

The exhibition includes lots of original material from the time, including union banners, posters, leaflets, and copies of the dispute newspaper, The Wapping Post.

The workers' headquarters was across the river in Southwark at Caxton House (13-16 Borough Road, SE1 0AA - now a South Bank University building). A report in The Wapping Post described how 'The Operations Room' worked: 'The office functions on the top floor of Caxton House, 24 hours a day. Set up from the start of the dispute as an information and co-ordinating centre, the Operations Team is mainly staffed by [clerical staff sacked by Murdoch]. The Ops’ services include taking requests for speakers, leaflets or badges etc.; publicising mass pickets, meetings and marches; dealing with general enquiries on the dispute and acting as “agony aunts” (or uncles) when people are despondent. An Advice Centre in Southwark Streeet helps out with unemployment and supplementary benefit enquiries. Each arrest at Wapping or other picket lines is handled by Ops'.

In the same building, sacked workers ran the 24 hours a day national picket centre: 'A rotating team of 20, working eight-hour shifts, co-ordinates movements and mobilises the print unions’ nationwide team of flying pickets… It has to be secret. At the beginning of the campaign, the pickets found that the police were often ready and waiting in numbers. The problem was overcome when the organisers stopped using phones to alert the flying pickets' (Wapping Post, 7 June 1986).
In Southwark too, 'A Wives Support group has just been formed and will hold its first meeting on Wednesday October 29, at 5:30 pm in John Marshall Hall, Blackfriars Road, London SE1'. Southwark Trades Council published the following 'Would you buy a newspaper from this man' poster, printed at the Southwark Trade Union Support Unit, 17 Braganza Street SE17.

A support demonstration by Southwark residents and workers was called for August 16 1986 by Southwark Printers Support Committee.
I spent some time on the picket line at Wapping on Saturday nights, and on my first day at work in London in January 1987 (at Lambeth's West Norwood Library) I got involved in the boycott of Murdoch's papers. If I recall correctly the Labour Council had initially banned the papers from libraries during the dispute, but had backed down after legal action. But the staff in the libraries refused to handle the papers when it was delivered.

The exhibition at Goldsmiths continues until 14 October in the New Academic Building, Goldsmiths College, New Cross, London, SE14 6NW. It is free and open to the public - the building is the new lego like structure on the green at the back of the college (up on the bank behind the big trees), opposite the old main building. You can visit it from 9 am to 9 pm, except for Friday when it closes at 5 pm.

(I also found some interesting Deptford material in the exhibition which I will return to at a later date).


AD said...

There's a Wapping memorial sculpture at Christ Church Blackfriars road.

. said...

That's interesting - I wonder why there in particular?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I've only just seen this (April 2020!!)
The church used to be, and perhaps still is, I don't know, the industrial mission for the hundreds if not thousands of workplaces along the southern bank of the Thames in this area of north Lambeth and Southwark. In the church itself are panels of stained glass windows depicting the various trades whhich were prominent in the area.
Many, many print workers lived in the area as it was just across the river from Fleet Street. The whole area, north and south of the Thames from Southwark and Lambeth, to Fleet Street, Clerkenwell, the Old Street area, and up to Kings Cross was a mass of print shops and companies large and small.
The bronze depicts the 1986 Wapping dispute, was commissioned by SOGAT (the union with 4500 members sacked by the comapany)and was made by Ian Walters. Ian was a wonderful sculptor, socialist and internationalist who supported workers in struggle. His most famous work is the large bust of Nelson Mandela next to the side entrance of the Royal Festival Hall on the south bank of the Thames. Less well-known is a statuette of a British International Brigader from the Spanish Civil War. It was also commissioned by SOGAT in the 1980s and donated to the Marx Memorial Library in 2007 where it can be seen today in the memorial garden.

liz king said...

When Southwark College teachers union had a long strike in 1997, Christ Church were very supportive and allowed our union to hold nearly all the meetings there. I don't know much about the history but I understand that they have supported many trade unions over the years. (Thanks to St Giles at Camberwell too!)