Anarchists/communists in the Wapping dispute

28 posts / 0 new
Last post
Glory hunter
Offline
Joined: 13-01-05
Apr 28 2006 14:11
Anarchists/communists in the Wapping dispute

Admin - split from this ICC thread

devrim wrote:
To go back to England, and practical things, when I was living there( at the time of the Wapping dispute), there were two groups/publications whom the anarchists had connections with. One was run by an ex-member of the Spartacist League, and was called ‘Picket’. The other was run by a member of the Labour Party, and called the ‘Fleet Street Support Unit’. The first argued for more violence, and was backed by most anarchists while the second argued for spreading the strike to the rest of what was then Fleet Street, and had very little anarchist support. I feel that we (and I include myself within this) backed the wrong horse due to a lack of political theory. I feel that this is what comes out of just being involved in the struggle without any theory.

The picket bulletin, As it happens, I was involved with that. Used to write for it a bit, must have handed out thousands of copies of it. Actually Devrim, I think that you have it completely wrong on this one.

The main man, and driving force behind the picket bulletin, was an ex IMG, ex spart called Arnie Mintz (Boy, did the sparts hate him) Arnie, was a hardcore Bolshevik, who through years of political activity, had come to the conclusion, that he hated the left, and all socialists. Arnie was also a printworker, who when the wapping strike started, found himself in the peculiar position of being surrounded by Anarchists who were all up for it !

I think he had fantasy of forming everyone into a hybrid Leninist/Anarchist party, but he was always onto a loser with that one.

The Picket Bulletin, was just a couple of sides of A4, and it come out about every second day through out the course of the strike. It was just news of what was happening in the strike on a day to day level. It was also written almost entirely by people who were actually on strike, anybody who wished, could contribute to it, so needles to say the unions fucking hated it ! I don't remember it particularly advocating violence, but it was supportive of flying pickets when they happened. Picket was very much in favour of escalating the strike to the rest of fleet street, this being, politically, the obvious thing to do. And if this had happened, Arnie, along with everyone else would probably have wet our collective pants ! I can't see any problem with picket ? The fleet street support unit on the other hand, I can't even remember.

Devrim's picture
Devrim
Offline
Joined: 15-07-06
Apr 28 2006 12:25

Yes, I remember what happened at Wapping. I remember the bloke who produced picket, and knew him well, as I knew you. I was also involved in some of the actions around Wapping including going on flying pickets with printers along with members of my Postman’s group.

My point was that at the time (and we were young), there was a fetisization of violence, and the picketing. I didn’t say that the Picket bulletin was a bad thing, but it did have those problems. In lots of ways it was very worthwhile.

I think the fact that you don’t remember the ‘Fleet Street Support Unit’ says a lot about my point.

Devrim

Glory hunter
Offline
Joined: 13-01-05
Apr 28 2006 13:49

Yeah well, picket made a few mistakes, think that it probably could have taken it further than it did, for me , it was still a pretty remarkable thing though.

Devrim's picture
Devrim
Offline
Joined: 15-07-06
Apr 28 2006 13:55

It was a remarkable thing. Compared to a lot of younger comrades, we were also very lucky to have had the experience of the late 80's when there was large scale class struggle even if was mostly defensive.

It doesn't mean that we shouldn't analyze what was good, and bad about what happened though, and try to learn things.

Devrim

bastarx
Offline
Joined: 9-03-06
Apr 28 2006 14:44
Devrim wrote:
It was a remarkable thing. Compared to a lot of younger comrades, we were also very lucky to have had the experience of the late 80's when there was large scale class struggle even if was mostly defensive.

Lucky indeed. Here I am with nearly 10 years of some sort of engagement with radical politics and I've been involved in next to nothing. Some student stuff when I was at uni, a few anti-summit demos overseas and the huge disappointment that was the anti-war movement.

cheers

Pete

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Nov 5 2008 20:37

Bumped because we've just uploaded every issue of picket:
http://libcom.org/history/picket-bulletin-wapping-printers-strike-1986-1987

If anyone knows any information about the people who put this together, please say and we can write a little something as an introduction to the archive.

Devrim's picture
Devrim
Offline
Joined: 15-07-06
Nov 6 2008 04:58

There is some info in the first post on this thread.
Devrim

freemind
Offline
Joined: 10-10-08
Nov 6 2008 11:53

I never made it down to Wapping but was in contact with a Leicester support group and distributed a couple of thousand leaflets on my own and sent a fiver each week to Picket. The Printers in Warrington should not be forgotten in the struggle against Eddie Shah in 1983 also nor the scabs and Brenda "Thatcher"Dean for sabotaging the struggle against Murdoch.

BB
Offline
Joined: 12-08-04
Nov 7 2008 11:30
Steven. wrote:
Bumped because we've just uploaded every issue of picket:
http://libcom.org/history/picket-bulletin-wapping-printers-strike-1986-1987

Nice one. Apart from a few bits here an there, i've only got the "Paperboys" pamphlet.

Wellclose Square
Offline
Joined: 9-05-08
Nov 7 2008 21:50

On a nostalgic note, I was very disappointed to see on www.closedpubs.com that the Britannia Arms in Cable Street has closed and is now a private house. I spent more time than I should have done in there on my periodic visits to Wapping in '85 /'86, more often than not stumbling out to streets deserted save for marauding phalanxes of the Met's 'Myrmidons'.

Wellclose Square
Offline
Joined: 9-05-08
Nov 7 2008 21:53

Correction, it's www.closedpubs.co.uk

noutrage
Offline
Joined: 31-01-09
Jan 31 2009 08:30

I lived in Wapping during the dispute and was active in the mainstream TU/Labour movement, but had been an entryist anarchist when I squatted in the 70s long before the Trots became so prominent. I was a contributor to the Picket, as well as the more conventional Wapping Post. Arnie, who compiled and published the Picket, has since died. He was one of a kind. Although the TU leadership did not support the Picket, they all read it uncritically and secretly delighted in the organized disruption it formented. Well done BB for uploading all the issues of the Picket. I have put a link to it from my web site and will do so from Wikpedia if you're OK with that.

Devrim's picture
Devrim
Offline
Joined: 15-07-06
Jan 31 2009 09:04

Here is a obituary of Arnie written by the IBT if anyone is interested:
http://marxists.anu.edu.au/history//canada/socialisthistory/Remember/Profiles/Mintz-Arnie.htm

IBT wrote:
Upon returning to England, he secured a job in a Fleet Street printshop where he worked on one of London’s dailies. In the run-up to Rupert Murdoch’s all-out assault on the printing unions that culminated in the 1986 Wapping strike, Arnie got a "buy-out" from his employer. This did not prevent him from playing an active role on the picket lines during the strike. The strike, which was ultimately broken, lasted many months and involved ferocious struggles in which the unionists and their supporters were pitted against the cops and scabs. Arnie was very proud of his participation in this struggle, and particularly of his role in producing the strikers’ paper, Picket, which he helped edit.

At this time Arnie was connected with a group of direct-action anarchists, some of whom were subsequently associated with the publication Class War. Arnie thought that his role in the strike had led the police to target him for particularly brutal treatment, which in turn, he believed, triggered the onset of Parkinson’s disease which gradually progressed to full-blown MS

Devrim

noutrage
Offline
Joined: 31-01-09
Jan 31 2009 09:33

Arnie did get a lot of police attention. Many of us did, and it was one of the reasons the Picket was managed so secretively. I got fitted up by the police but in court their story was so unbeleivable that even the magistrates didn't fall for it, and gave me damages against the police. For the next year I got followed, stopped literally every time I drove anywhere, threatened - but only by coppers from Camden (the outfit that tried to fit me up). They managed to nail one of my witnesses however, and made up a story that stuck in court. They made it clear it was related to him testifying against them and had one of the invariably biased magistrates who allowed so much perjured testimony from the police to convict so many pickets. Of course we weren't angels, it's just the police harrassed us and fitted us up for what we didn't do, not what we did do! Subsequent to the dispute we managed to identify at least two people involved in the clandestine activities around the dispute who were police informers. One did it to avoid conviction for an unrelated offence, the other because it made him feel important.

jambo1's picture
jambo1
Offline
Joined: 2-06-07
Feb 1 2009 10:47

good posts here,and great that you have uploaded the bulletin.

BB
Offline
Joined: 12-08-04
Feb 4 2009 10:27
noutrage wrote:
Well done BB for uploading all the issues of the Picket.

Not me mate, it was Steve.

Some of the brighton/sussex autonomists were involved in the pickets, however i'm not sure to what extent...

Watch this space.

posi
Offline
Joined: 24-09-05
Feb 4 2009 16:52
Quote:
EASTSIDE COMMUNITY HERITAGE in partnership with TOYNBEE HALL:

Do you remember the Wapping Dispute?

Share memories of the 1986 – 87 strike against the sacking of over 5,000 print workers by News International. The strike was pivotal for both the printing industry and the British union movement. The event will provide a chance for discussion around what lessons can be learnt and in what ways we should remember the dispute.

Were you a print worker, a News International employee, a trade unionist, a demonstrator or a resident of Wapping?

Do you remember the days of Fortress Wapping or do you want to find out more?

Thursday the 26th of February 2009 from 6.30 – 8pm in the Lecture Hall at Toynbee Hall, 28 Commercial Street, London E1 6LS. Close to Aldgate East underground station.

Speakers include:

Andy Walpole giving a historical introduction

Jeremy Corbyn MP speaking about his memories of the dispute

Former Print Workers sharing their memories

If you were involved in the dispute either as a striker, supporter, local resident or unionist and would like to share your memories on the night please contact Rosa Vilbr on 0207 538 4545 or rosa@ech.org.uk

There will be an exhibition to view and refreshments will be provided free of charge. The event is free. There is full access for wheelchair users. Please contact us for any further information.

This event is being organised by Eastside Community Heritage, a community history charity as part of the project Working Lives of the Thames Gateway that is recording the memories of East and South East London’s industrial workers.

To find out more please see www.hidden-histories.org.uk.

Scumboni
Offline
Joined: 28-04-12
Apr 28 2012 17:06

Another late entry ... I was the third of the core editorial / production team of three that co-ordinated and published Picket. Arne was a minder in the general trade, as was I. The other was Roger E, a sacked Times subeditor; Arne introduced us and Roger is still one of my closest friends and comrades (he taught me much, including how a very strong, very cold, perfectly made 2am gin and tonic could bring you round after a freezing night chasing scab lorries and vans round the streets of Stepney. We often ended up at his flat in Whitechapel). Me - autonomist communist, ex London Workers Group, Workers Playtime. Arne thought he could launch a new international Leninist party on the back of a successful mobilisation at Wapping, and Roger was a Labour member and supporter (not for long though). We had lots of helpers and supporters including the legendary Peter G (anarchist printer at the Sun) and Class War Phil, who I worked with at Calverts, a worker co-operative printshop based in Mount Pleasant and then Shoreditch, where we put the thing together and printed it. Arne and Roger collected most of the contributions, written, poetic, financial and otherwise. The highest print run was 10,000. We'd publish on Wednesdays and/or Saturdays, distribute, go picketing, collecting stories from the pickets. We had big, fighty political discussions and I learnt lots from Arne too about the subtleties of street propaganda - for instance, you don't always have to explicitly condemn the union leaders; when SOGAT bigwig Hicks got himself nicked in the same week as unassuming Bob Shirfield, the union started a 'Free Hicks' campaign; we very deliberately started a 'Free Shirfield and Hicks' campaign. The message was clear.
The Picket collective eventually foundered on Arne's Leninist paranoia; Roger had the key to the mailbox and Arne chose to make that a political thing. He'd cut his political teeth running dirty tricks and interference on other Leninist groups in Canada. Arne was responsible for archiving and collecting the bulletin, which is why there are still complete printed (and bound) collections in existence - I have a couple. Arne was a sweet, nutty, nervous, shaky guy and a cast iron class warrior. He eventually went back to Toronto where I visited him for a week in around 1989; I think he got his MS diagnosis shortly after.

Ellar's picture
Ellar
Offline
Joined: 1-11-09
Apr 28 2012 17:17
Quote:
It was a remarkable thing. Compared to a lot of younger comrades, we were also very lucky to have had the experience of the late 80's when there was large scale class struggle even if was mostly defensive.

Just wanted to say that we are standing at the precipice of the largest period of intense class struggle since perhaps the late 1800's. Younger comrades face a crisis and attack from the ruling class far greater than that of the 80s, not playing down what happened in the 80's or the respect I have for people who fought in that struggle or the intensity of that struggle. Just saying, history didn't end.

Scumboni
Offline
Joined: 28-04-12
Apr 28 2012 17:32

Incidentally, don't call Wapping a strike - it was a lockout. Murdoch had been openly preparing and planning it for more than a year, and everyone should have known what was coming; the unions were guilty of criminal hubris and complacency (we'd been covering Eddie Shah, Maxwell and Murdoch's manoeuvrings consistently in Workers Playtime, including his recruitment of scabs in the months before the move from Gray's Inn Road). When it kicked off at Wapping, the state and News International were extremely well prepared and I was 90 per cent sure we were on a surefire loser without class generalisation (Roger and Arne disagreed). The Fleet Street printworkers never knew what hit them, though it was plain as a pikestaff; they'd had control of employment in the trade for so long through the closed shop, they thought it was their enduring right.

Scumboni
Offline
Joined: 28-04-12
Apr 28 2012 17:35

Ellar, I completely agree. We are in a new and very intense period of class struggle and need to put the 80s in proper perspective.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Apr 29 2012 14:36
Ellar wrote:
Quote:
It was a remarkable thing. Compared to a lot of younger comrades, we were also very lucky to have had the experience of the late 80's when there was large scale class struggle even if was mostly defensive.

Just wanted to say that we are standing at the precipice of the largest period of intense class struggle since perhaps the late 1800's. Younger comrades face a crisis and attack from the ruling class far greater than that of the 80s, not playing down what happened in the 80's or the respect I have for people who fought in that struggle or the intensity of that struggle. Just saying, history didn't end.

hey, I think you are exaggerating here a little bit.

The upsurge in struggle over the last year or two still has nothing on the 80s in terms of the extent of it (about 27 million strike days lost in 1984, 30 million in 1979 in the UK), let alone 1968, let alone 1917!

Of course history didn't end, but the battles of the 80s marked a turning point, following which the working class has been on the defensive (having previously been on the offensive). We are still on the defensive now, in even weaker position than we were then.

RedEd's picture
RedEd
Offline
Joined: 27-11-10
May 4 2012 02:33

Just to say, it's really great to hear the words of people who were involved in these struggles, and the lessons they can pass on. Us young commies need to hear this shit. For our sake more than for yours. Maybe write some articles about it. Experience is better than abstract theory.

baboon
Offline
Joined: 29-07-05
May 4 2012 17:55

As someone involved in struggles of the 70s and 80s, both inside and outside unions, I have some sympathy for Ellar's position. There are many ways of approaching the relativity of the question but I think that the most important one is the international dimension of the class struggle - and the bourgeoisie's response. I think that the highest point of the struggle in the 80s, coming on the back of a general development of self-organisation and combats that were coming up against the walls of the unions nearly everywhere, was the movement in Poland in 1980. From the MKS strike committees came the strength of a movement so organised and solid that it could direct workers back to work to maintain essentials for the class - a factor which only increased its strength and the threat to the bourgeoisie. It was beaten by a combination of stalinism, the Catholic church and the western bourgeoisie and their union helpers, Nato and the Warsaw Pact. Those calling for "Free Trade Unions" in China today should heed the lessons of Solidarnosc. So for me, that struggle, when it was going forward, represented a particularly important statement that was more than a Polish phenomenon.

As Ellar intimates, I think that the stakes are much higher now and this is fundamentally due to the development and severity of the economic crisis which - in my opinion - is only going to get more chronic. In Britain in the 70s and 80s, without in any way demeaning it, it was easier to go on strike - and easier to get another job. Now though things are much more serious with little light at the end of the tunnel for the working class under capitalism.

In the last few years we've seen the biggest, global wave of social struggles certainly since early 1900. Some of them have been messy and incomplete but have demonstrated that things can't carry on as they did before. Around the same period we've seen the development of a fightback by the working class that cannot possibly win any real reforms from this system. I'm not talking here about a struggle in a workplace that comes up with some goods or forces a retreat by the bosses - but in general, overall, the working class is going to have to raise the stakes of its combat. I don't see this posing the 80s against now, but seeing the continuity of the same struggle in, what is economically and socially, a general deterioration of working class conditions.

baboon
Offline
Joined: 29-07-05
May 12 2012 10:45

Just a brief afterthought on the difference between the 70s and 80s and now in relation to the class struggle and by way of emphasising the depth and scope of the swingeing attacks on the working class now.

Certainly in the 70s, though it was always concerning, unemployment wasn't the blow it is today. The dole, for six months or so, was related to the last pay packets and, with tax rebates, more generous housing benefits, it wasn't too much of a financial blow especially if you got another job fairly quickly, which was also the case. There were also some genuine re-skilling courses. This was the situation in the UK and most of western Europe.
Another factor was that in a working class family of 2 or 3 generations one family member out of work could be more easily absorbed and somewhat cushioned.

Now however the dole is a pittance and being reduced everywhere and the same for any other state "assistance". It's much more likely that there will be more than one family member out of work, more part-time working and the prospect for any sort of job diminishing. This gives the bourgeoisie a whip hand over the working class with the blackmail of unemployment. In the face of the attacks workers will think twice about going on strike.

Whatever the militancy and combativity involved, Wapping was effectively a corporate prison for the class struggle and there was any number of these types of strikes in Britain in the late 70s/early 80s - smaller in scale than Wapping but all ending in defeat by dint of being locked into one firm with these blockades becoming a cause celbre of leftism. These attacks of the ruling class culminated in the corporate division and isolation of the Miners' strike, the crushing defeat of which had international ramifications.

The scope of the attacks on the working class today mean that the isolated, blockaded strike is even more of a trap for the working class today.

Battlescarred
Offline
Joined: 27-02-06
May 12 2012 10:57

Yeah, apart from going down during the week/weekend individually or in small groups as London ACF, when there was a national meeting of ACF in London we always went down there afterwards

baboon
Offline
Joined: 29-07-05
May 15 2012 10:35

Just another brief afterthought on the differences (and continuity) between the 70s/80s and today in relation to the class struggle and the present difficulties for the class to go on strike. It's an obvious one really.

Following the crushing defeat of the miners' strike in Britain, the state, under both Conservative and Labour governments, continued with a whole raft of anti-strike, anti-picket legislation. There's a myth that all these laws weakened the trade unions. They strengthened them enormously, in particular their role in policing and disciplinging the working class. Union legal departments, always a strong feature of the unions even under the stalinist leaderships of the 70s, balloned. The unions now had additional weapons in their armoury to confront the wildcat strikes that were prevalent and becoming stronger throughout the 70s and early 80s - I know full well that many shop stewards were involved in these spontaneous wildcats but that doesn't make them "union strikes". Of course, as generally the most militant workers, the stewards would be involved or even leading strikes that were coming up against the main structures of the unions. This is what the state had to confront and did so in the wake of the defeat that affected the whole of the class after 84/85.

Now the stakes are much higher.