Murdoch to take printing out of Wapping in £600m revamp

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The Independent Online

Rupert Murdoch's News International is to move its print presses out of the Wapping site that was the scene of an iconic battle with print workers in the 1980s.

Rupert Murdoch's News International is to move its print presses out of the Wapping site that was the scene of an iconic battle with print workers in the 1980s.

The company will make two-thirds of its printers redundant after it moves printing to new plants outside London in a £600m investment programme announced yesterday. News International produces its papers - The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and the News of the World - at the massive site in Wapping, east London, which is also home to the papers' journalists and advertising sales staff.

The 1,000 print workers employed by News International will shrink to some 350 as the new plants need far fewer staff. The journalists and other staff at Wapping will remain, although part of the site is likely to be sold off for redevelopment. The company, a subsidiary of Mr Murdoch's News Corp, will move printing to Enfield, north of London, and sites in Glasgow and Knowsley, close to Liverpool.

News International's move to Wapping in 1986 spelt the end of the old Fleet Street national newspaper industry. Today no newspapers are left in the area. Les Hinton, the executive chairman of News International, said the original Wapping relocation "was part of an industrial earthquake in this country. This [move] is nothing like that".

The overnight and secretly planned move to "fortress Wapping" led to the one of the most momentous industry disputes of the Thatcher era. News International recruited a shadow or "scab" workforce to man the new printing plants, which had been set up under the pretence that a new paper for London would be printed at the site. News International needed a larger home and was determined to cut down on what it saw as a hugely overstaffed print operation.

Print workers picketed the site in the belief that they could bring the operation to a halt, pitching them into daily and often violent confrontations with the police, who defended the right of the "scabs" to cross the picket line. Most of the journalists on the four titles agreed to make the move, despite the position of the National Union of Journalists' executive leadership, though many reporters subsequently left the company.

It is now generally accepted that the unions miscalculated their power and many believe that they should have cut a deal with the company. Unions for journalists or production staff are not recognised to this day at News International.

Mr Hinton said there was now no need for print works and editorial and ad sales staff to be housed on the same site.

The 22 new presses, ordered from the German manufacturer MAN Roland, are physically too large to be housed in the current buildings at Wapping, he said.

"Behind all the glamour of the journalism, newspapers are manufacturing and distribution businesses....To bring thousands of tons of paper into London every day and out every night is a massive logistical problem," he added.

Its rival Daily Mail & General Trust, the publisher of the Daily Mail, has just been through a multimillion-pound investment in its print facilities while the publisher of The Guardian has ordered new presses to enable the paper to be printed in a smaller size. Although Trinity Mirror, the publisher of the Daily Mirror, is reorganising its printing sites, it has not started a major programme of investment in the facilities.

It is thought that the Daily Telegraph will also look at new plants in the next few years.

Mr Hinton said News International's planned investment would allow it to "leapfrog" the opposition. The new facilities will allow the printing of colour on every page of a 120-page paper, and allow greater quantities of papers to be printed per hour. "We are heading towards a full-colour world," he said.