Second union ends strike at Murdoch plant

LONDON -- A second print union in as many days Friday called off its strike against news baron Rupert Murdoch, ending a bitter, 13-month labor dispute during which hundreds were injured or arrested.

Faced with legal action that could have left it in or near bankruptcy, the National Graphical Association ordered an end to picketing and demonstrations at Murdoch's high-tech printing plant at Wapping, in London's East End.


The action came 24 hours after Britain's largest print union, the Society of Graphic and Allied Trades, halted its own dispute with Murdoch's News International, which publishes The Times, the Sunday Times and the weekly News of the World newspapers.

With the union action, News International canceled legal action that could have cost the graphic and trade union and the National Graphical Association upwards of $4.5 million for picketing and mass demonstrations in defiance of a court injunction last year.

A handful of print workers defied union orders and kept up picket lines at the barbed wire-surrounded plant. 'They may not stay here, but they will stay,' one picketer said. 'They won't go away.'

But the two unions decisions to call off the strike officially ended the dispute that erupted Jan. 24, 1986, when Murdoch, faced with a print union strike, fired 5,500 print workers and moved his publishing operations to the computerized plant at Wapping.


What followed was more than a year of intermittent violence, generally on Saturday nights when printers and their supporters tried - without success -- to halt distribution of the Sunday Times and the News of the World.

Hundreds of demonstrators and police were injured by flying bricks, bottles, stones and spears. Police, some on horseback, wielded batons and carried plastic shields when trying to control the crowd.

Bill O'Neill, News International's managing director, said the unions 'calculated we couldn't produce the newspapers. They calculated wrong ... Now, hopefully, we can put it behind us.'

National Graphical Association General Secretary Tony Dubbins said the graphic and trade union's pullout and the threat of having union funds sequestered by court action meant that 'practically, for the NGA to carry on the dispute ... is not really open to us.'

'Most of our members are very disappointed and very disturbed by it,' Dubbins said. 'Our members must feel quite sickened.'

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