Global media owner Rupert Murdoch is cheering on the war in Afghanistan and at the same time attacking his own workers in Britain. Murdoch owns top Hollywood film company 20th Century Fox. Last week he was one of the movie executives invited to a meeting initiated by George W Bush to discuss how companies could help the war on Afghanistan with their films.
Murdoch is viciously anti-union, and in Britain is perhaps best known for smashing the print unions after a bitter strike in the mid-1980s. As recession worsens, his companies are in trouble. He is turning on those who made him the profits, including workers he cynically used to help him build his power.
'Brutal, just brutal,' is how one worker describes what is happening at the Wapping plant where Murdoch's British papers are printed. The company is sacking 130 workers despite Murdoch's News International Corporation announcing £248 million profits for the last three months. Workers on the Sun, Times, Sunday Times and News of the World were stunned last month when news of the jobs cull broke.
On the Sunday Times, editor John Withgrow passed on a message from Murdoch to the staff that he considered the paper the 'outstanding' title in his global empire. Less than one hour later the same workers heard that their reward was to be the threat of the dole. Across the other three Wapping newspapers staff got the same message.
Casual and contract workers were simply told not to bother coming back in, 'just shown the door', one insider told Socialist Worker. Some full time staff fared little better, being told they would soon be finished. 'The cuts are hitting older people in their fifties. There is real shock and distress,' one insider explained to Socialist Worker. 'I have heard that one older employee collapsed on the newsroom floor when the job cuts were announced and needed medical attention. Among those hit now are people who worked for Murdoch right through the Wapping battle in the 1980s. They have been used and now face the sack. There is no chance of them getting another job in the industry in the current climate.'
Murdoch blames the downturn in advertising since 11 September for the cuts. That downturn is undoubtedly a significant factor. But it reflects cutbacks by other companies faced with an economic recession already under way before 11 September.
Insiders in Murdoch's empire tell of a bigger picture behind the job cuts. 'There has been a wage and recruitment freeze at Wapping for the last year. Murdoch has suffered from some disastrous gambles. He was caught up in the dot.com bubble and lost a fortune when an online auction site folded,' said one worker.
The latest Murdoch gamble to go disastrously wrong was his bid to take over a satellite TV station which was a subsidiary of General Motors in the US. One Murdoch employee told Socialist Worker. 'The company is still hugely profitable. We are paying for being part of a multinational. We are now being sacrificed to improve the company's cash flow, and balance the books after his failed business moves.'
It is not just the job cuts that have shocked people. So too has the string of petty measures that have been pushed through. 'Christmas parties have been cut, and even the milk the company supplied for people's tea and coffee has been cut to save a few thousand quid,' said one employee.
He loves rich and powerful
When Murdoch moved to Wapping from Fleet Street in central London in the 1980s he set the place up as a non-union operation. Leaders of what was then the electricians' EETPU union helped Murdoch organise a scabbing operation to keep his papers appearing during the strike.
The eventual defeat of the print unions after more than a year on strike was a serious blow to the entire trade union movement. Murdoch was a big fan of Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher. But since New Labour was elected in 1997, Murdoch has been in and out of 10 Downing Street demanding and receiving favours from Tony Blair.
He has cosied up to the Chinese regime too, censoring news on his Star TV satellite channel to try and win favoured access to that country's potentially vast and lucrative market.