PRINTERS AT a key national newspaper plant have won an important victory after voting to strike. The victory represents a turning point in an industry where workers have lived for 15 years under the shadow of the catastrophic Wapping defeat. Management at West Ferry Printers on east London’s Isle of Dogs wanted between 90 and 100 job cuts and a pay freeze.
They insisted that some of the redundancies would be compulsory so they could pick and choose who to get rid of. Management were so used to getting their own way they thought they would get away with it, but workers had other ideas.
Most of the hundreds of shop floor workers are in the union, though the management has all but ignored unions for 15 years. A series of meetings of both the GPMU and AEEU unions saw workers vote for a ballot on resistance. The GPMU ballot result came out just after Christmas, with workers backing both action short of a strike and strikes.
The result stunned management, who quickly caved in, withdrawing the threat of compulsory job cuts and agreeing to reopen pay talks. The importance of the strike vote and the management retreat go far beyond the immediate fight.
‘Everybody in here is chuffed to bits, cock a hoop,’ one worker told Socialist Worker. ‘After 15 years of management being able to do exactly what they like, we have stood up to them’ ‘It’s brilliant,’ added another worker. ‘People are walking ten feet tall. Management got the shock of their lives. Ever since Wapping they have bullied, done just as they pleased and ignored the union. Now things could be different.’ In the mid-1980s Rupert Murdoch took on and smashed the print unions when he moved his titles to the Wapping plant in east London.
Murdoch’s plant prints the Sun, Times, News of the World and the rest of his titles. It stands just along the River Thames from West Ferry, which prints the Telegraph, Daily Star, Express, Guardian, Financial Times, Observer and other papers.
The crushing defeat at Wapping meant that even where print unions were still formally recognised, such as at West Ferry, workers were cowed and management got away with doing much as they pleased.
There has not been a single strike or any other form of industrial action anywhere in the national print for the last 15 years. The West Ferry vote and victory now marks a turning of the tide which could have much wider repercussions across the industry. ‘The vote and the result have restored a bit of faith in the union,’ said one worker.
‘It has also won some arguments. There were people who thought we couldn’t win a strike vote, that the younger guys who have come in wouldn’t fight, or that management couldn’t be beaten. We have shown that’s all wrong-that we can all stand together, fight and win.’
Reballots have opened the way to bigger struggle