Sunday, October 08, 2006

News International newspapers' move to Wapping – a warning from history? A lesson for the NHS?

The action following the move of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers from Fleet Street to Wapping was second only to the Miners’ strike in bitterness and confrontation during the Thatcher decade. Naturally, being a good liberal leftie, in both disputes I was on the side of the workers. But with hindsight it’s easy to see that neither side was really wholly on the side of the angels.

By chance I listened to most of this programme yesterday. I had taken my daughter and some of her friends to a party in the wilds of Gloucestershire beyond even Stow on the Wold; it’s very dark out there. On the way home I listened to the wireless. If you want to, you can listen to the programme from its web site.

It tells the story of the 13 month dispute at Wapping but, as it’s presented by Andrew Neil, it’s somewhat from the ‘boss’s’ perspective. Nevertheless it is clear that some of the print workers were trying to hold back the relentless march of time; in many ways they were acting like the Luddites.

They had very well paid jobs that required not a lot of effort. For decades they’d had newspapers over a barrel; if they wouldn’t print them there’d be nothing to sell. But technology was overtaking them; it was inevitable that their easy days were ending.

Now such changes should have been introduced gradually and with proper consultation but that was the era of macho, ultra-aggressive industrial relations. However, just like the ill-led miners, they were doomed.

There may be lessons for some of those who resist change in our health service and for the managers who are tasked with pushing it forward. I must do a paper on the similarities between the BMA and SOGAT or perhaps one comparing Rupert Murdoch with, say, Patricia Hewitt (can’t remember the name of the real head of the NHS, sorry). Or maybe not ...

15 Comments:

At 11:16, Blogger cassilis said...

Interesting post.

I don't know much about the Wapping dispute (I'll listen to the programme) but the miners strike was a formative event in my own political life. i was a teenager at the time living with my staunchly left-wing parents on the west coast of Scotland - a Labour heartland if ever there was one. My parents were whole-heartedly behind Scargill. One event sticks out in particular.

I can't recall the details but I think a couple of striking miners dropped a paving slab from a motorway bridge onto a taxi carrying a miner to work. I think the miner lived but the taxi driver was killed. I remember being shocked first by the incident and then by my father's ambivalence towards the miners who dropped the slab. He didn't quite excuse them of any guilt at all but I was shocked by his 'all's fair' type approach.

It was this incident that made me want to read a bit more about politics and at least make sure that if I did adopt my parents political outlook I did so from an informed rather than hereditary point of view. Needless to say I now sit some way to my fathers right...!

 
At 12:01, Blogger Bob Piper said...

Perhaps rather than a throw away couple of words about the "ill-led" miners you would like, from the benefit of hindsight, to advise us how YOU would have led the miners to victory.

Perhaps it was just 'technology overtaking them' too.

 
At 13:12, Blogger Manchester University Labour Club said...

You have just demonstrated in 1 post why it was a complete disgrace that conference was sponsored by sky news.

 
At 17:08, Blogger Hughes Views said...

Thanks Cassilis, Britain was certainly horribly polarised in the 1980s and awful things happened on both sides of the divide. For example, sending up the most thuggish members of the Metropolitan Police to 'control' the picket lines was just one of the government's nasty tactics.

Bob, are you a fan of AS? There was no way the miners could have been led to victory anymore than the scribes could have been led to victory after the printing press was invented or insurance clerks after the mainframe computer had arrived. Change happens.

Soft Socialist, welcome but I'm not sure I follow your logic.

 
At 18:40, Blogger Bob Piper said...

It is not a question of being a fan. He was a trade union leader whose members jobs were being threatened, not by economic reasons, but ideological spite. He could just sit back and allow it to happen, or together with his members, stand up and fight for their jobs whilst a 1,000 years of fuel lay in the ground and Britain imported coal from South Africa. I am proud to have been associated with their struggle... regrettably too few in the established labour movement had the bottle to do support them.

As for your comment about luddites, again you seem to have swallowed the employers myths. The luddites did not break machinery for the sake of it, or because they did not understand it. The luddite attacks were an expression of working classmilitancy against employers who would have used slaves if they didn't find that paying by the day was cheaper.

Read: http://www.gober.net/victorian/reports/luddites.html

 
At 19:26, Blogger Manchester University Labour Club said...

Erm - Murdoch is a union bashing bastard who smashed the print unions. The labour party has a link with trade unions. Do you follow my logic?

 
At 10:08, Blogger Hughes Views said...

Soft Socialist: "The labour party has a link with trade unions" - true but that doesn't mean it has to defend them when they do stupid things especially when those things aren't in the interest of any workers aside perhaps for the unjustifiably privileged few in a small branch ...

Bob: AS would have helped his members and the trades union movement more had he noticed that the government had learnt from the early 1970s strikes and built up coal stocks at power stations in preparation for another. He might then have realised that he was picking a fight that he was unlikely to win and which would do his members and the trades union movement huge harm if he lost. As it was he helped give Margaret Thatcher her greatest boost since the Falklands War and probably turned thousands of potential members off joining a union ...

 
At 10:19, Blogger Bob Piper said...

Yes, perhaps you are right. He should have meekly laid down and let his troops be slaughtered. Of course, as Thatcher subsequently admitted, if NACODS had joined the strike when they had the opportunity, the Government would have been forced to concede - that's how close the NUM were to changing the course of history. Please, please don't try to blame Kinnock's inept performance in 1992 on the NUM or it's President. The left are always blamed by the right of the Party everytime the right lose an election... and the right also claim the credit when we win. Even poor old Clem is now condemned as being only a 'myth' of the left.

 
At 12:08, Blogger Hughes Views said...

Err who said anything about Mr Kinnock?!

 
At 12:36, Anonymous Adele said...

I agree with you in a certain sense as the print unions were pretty stupid. 3 day week and all that. But Murdoch still smashed the print unions which left those workers with no representation at work.

 
At 16:53, Blogger Bob Piper said...

HE lost the 1987 election, not Arthur Scargill.... and then performed no better in 1992 when there was NUM to blame.

 
At 10:38, Blogger Hughes Views said...

Adele - welcome. Yes he certainly helped to smash them but they didn't help themselves much - we all have to move with the times (ho ho).

Bob - that may or may not be true (HE certainly won no general elections) but what has it got to do with this post?

 
At 14:19, Anonymous Adele said...

Ok, I'll agree but I still hate him and the media for their silly right wing prejudices.

 
At 18:35, Blogger Bob Piper said...

What it has got to do with this post is in your comments when you said

"As it was he helped give Margaret Thatcher her greatest boost since the Falklands War and probably turned thousands of potential members off joining a union ."

My point was that it was not a boost to Thatcher that turned the electorate away so much as the unelectable Neil bloody Kinnock who drove them away.

 
At 21:43, Blogger Hughes Views said...

Thanks adele - that seems to be a perfectly reasonable stance to me!

Thanks Bob - it was your double leap that threw me. HE was pretty awful at times wasn't HE? I remember the pre-election rally at Sheffield in 1992 and weep. But SHE and her chums in the press weren't half bouyed up by boasting about her 'many victories' against the trades unionists ...

 

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