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Wapping PETER ARKELL

Barrie Clement was a labour correspondent at The Times when he refused to cross picket lines at News International 25 years ago

REFUSENIK WITH

NO REGRETS

I

have never regretted refusing to accept Mr Murdoch’s kind invitation go to Wapping. In fact the invitation was rather graceless. It was a question of “get your arse down to Wapping or bugger off – oh and by the way, here’s £2,000 for betraying your union and your colleagues who print the paper”. I’ve never liked bullies. Mr Murdoch and his fawning underling Charlie ‘no mates’ Wilson – who was then acting editor of The Times – were definitely behaving like bullies. So my decision to become a Wapping ‘refusenik’ was partly to do with a distaste for such characters. It was also to do with the fact that I regarded myself – and still do – as a socialist and a trade unionist. There were some at the time who argued that those who crossed the picket lines into the Fortress needed to be accompanied by committed NUJ members who would insist on the continuation of proper union representation. That assertion smacked of the kind of Jesuitical reasoning used to justify any course of action. Trade unionists should not cross picket lines. Quite simple really. In fact the NUJ made a more practical point. If Murdoch expected journalists to work at Wapping as part of an entirely different production process, then there should be an agreement on terms and conditions. Admittedly The Times’ Labour staff were in a unique position. Most of our work involved reporting the

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activities of unions. Clearly there was no possibility of carrying on as normal inside Wapping. The union movement had decided on a boycott of the journalists behind the barbed wire and the papers they produced. Harry Conroy, then general secretary of the NUJ, made it very clear that he would ensure that union leaders would not speak to us if we did take the Murdoch shilling. I have to say that professional considerations were not uppermost in my mind. My reasons for not going into Wapping were more fundamental than a concern about the practicalities of doing my job. Wilson rang me at home and offered me a production job on The Times if I crossed the picket lines (I had been chief city sub-editor on the Sunday Telegraph). I declined. Many News International journalists went into Wapping because they thought they would be blacklisted by employers if they didn’t. We all thought that those who remained loyal to the NUJ would find it very difficult to get work again. Overwhelmingly, that was not the case. The Times’ labour staff were taken on by The Independent with exactly the same job titles. Donald Macintyre as Labour Editor, David Felton as Labour Correspondent and I was Labour Reporter. Other refuseniks also found a home at The Indy. Many journalists went on to flourish at other national papers. During the dispute we were well looked after by the NUJ who paid us

During the dispute we were well looked after by the NUJ who paid us £150 a week strike pay

£150 a week strike pay. In my case it was enough to cover our recently acquired mega-mortgage. My wife Sue and I were able to support our three sons and our foster daughter on freelance fees. There was extra help from the NUJ for those who found themselves in financial difficulty. Refuseniks were helped with freelance work by other unions and the TUC. Amazingly enough, the labour staff did some work for the CBI – giving the lie to the idea that we were beyond the pale as far as employers were concerned. The Sunday Telegraph – a publication not known for its union sympathies – came to the rescue with some subbing work. Perhaps most surprising, we even did a gig for the MoD. So, speaking from personal experience there seemed to be no blacklisting for journalists who refused to cross the picket lines. This stands in vivid contrast to many of the 6,000 or more sacked print workers who found it far more difficult to get work. Many lost their homes and some suffered marriage breakdowns. That will never be forgotten – or forgiven. However, one of the lessons I took out of the whole Wapping affair was that loyalty to your union does not necessarily mean that you have to forfeit your career. Stick by the NUJ and it will stick by you. theJournalist | 19

6/4/11 15:59:41

The Journalist - April / May 2011  

The Journalist Magazine, magazine of the NUJ

The Journalist - April / May 2011  

The Journalist Magazine, magazine of the NUJ

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