Shortly after the Sunday Times’s enforced move into the London Docklands, David Blundy and Jon Swain were strolling towards the new production plant’s heavily-guarded entrance. These two foreign correspondents are used to witnessing military activity (you may remember Swain as a character in Roland Joffe’s movie, The Killing Fields), but they were astonished to see an armoured car with a full complement of Royal Marines apparently patrolling inside the heavily-fortified perimeter fence. Had Rupert Murdoch called in the Armed Forces?
The truth turned out to be less sinister. The military vehicle had been summoned by the Sun newspaper in order to transport their big-busted page-three girl, Samantha Fox, inside the wire for a photo call. Not long afterwards the resulting picture was splashed across the front page of the Sun. The ‘story’ read:
EYES FRONT! Sexy soldier Sam Fox inspects her loyal troops in the war of Wapping.
Bravely pointing her bazookas at the enemy lines, she advanced on the Sun’s besieged new offices yesterday.
And repelling print union pickets, she thrust forward in an armoured truck to inspect our troops. The lads’ eyes really lit up at the Wapping front.
The rhetoric of Fortress Falklands had been transferred to Fortress Wapping as an apt celebration of Murdoch’s victory. The victory was almost total: by shifting his four news-papers – the Times, Sunday Times, Sun and News of the World – down to the new plant at Wapping, Murdoch had eliminated the old print unions (the NGA and Sogat 82) from the production process. Six thousand of his employees had been sacked without a penny of compensation having to be paid – a saving of something like fifty million pounds.
Where were the journalists during all of this? January passed in a flurry of rumours, suspicions, union meetings and desperate resolutions. Some journalists were ordered down to Wapping for ‘training’ (some went, some refused), I was sent on a crash computer course at a secret address in the West End, within a week we wore out three fathers of our NUJ chapel. The manoeuvrings on every side were complicated and confused and, in retrospect, boring and pointless: all that matters is that the management and our editor, Andrew Neil, told us nothing of their true intentions.
By contrast, the crisis itself was simple. Rupert Murdoch demanded a level of compulsory redundancies of his Sogat 82 and NGA employees that he knew they would not accept. The two unions took the bait and on Friday, 24 January, after a ballot, they went on strike. Murdoch immediately dismissed them. The journalists of the Sunday Times were summoned to a meeting on Monday morning at the Mount Pleasant Hotel, around the corner from our offices in the Gray’s Inn Road. We wait for the management’s offer but it turns out that there is no offer. In return for a salary increase of £2000 a year and membership of a private health scheme all journalists must report at the Wapping plant tomorrow or be sacked. This deal has already been accepted by the journalists on the Sun and News of the World (by overwhelming majorities) and on the Times (by a majority of two to one). It is not negotiable in any aspect.