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By Colin Graham

LONDON, 19 JULY 2011 — The News of the World phone hacking scandal has undoubtedly exposed News International as something of a sinister organisation, but it was ever thus, especially if the year-long strike between 1986-7 by print workers and other staff against de-recognisation of the unions at the new plant at Wapping is considered. Then, as now, the police and the government could be seen as defenders of the Murdoch faith.

 As a 19-year-old student at North East London Polytechnic in January 1987, I joined a 12,500 strong demonstration in support of the some 6,000 print workers and other staff who had been sacked from Rupert Murdoch's News International during the company's move from Fleet Street to Wapping. What I saw later that evening made an indelible impression on me and shocked me to the core. 

Even though I had been 'politically active' for two years already, I had never before witnessed in person violence between demonstrators and riot police, despite having visited picket lines during the 1984 miner's strike in the UK and in the autumn of 1986 been to Paris to join a massive protest by French students against cuts in education and the death of one of their kind at the hands of police during a previous demonstration. Then, we had been warned of the possibility of tear gas and all sorts but the CRS kept their distance on that particular day. But just a few months later I saw British riot police in unlabelled boiler suits make continuous sorties into the crowd at Wapping, lashing their truncheons about wildly. Then, there was the flashing of lights into the crowd, followed by 'snatch squads' rushing in to arrest individuals. Journalists reporting on the melée — such as the BBC's Kate Adie —  were not spared and she too was a victim of one of the waving clubs, being struck on the head. 

The whole scene had been deeply sinister as soon as we arrived near the gates at Murdoch's new plant, the darkness and cold accentuating the eerie sense of foreboding that suddenly bore down on us, though the demonstration until then had been entirely peaceful. Then, just near the entrance we could see a group of men sitting on a truck and rocking it, before clambering off, turning it over and trying to set it alight. Their behavior was completely out of keeping with the mood of the crowd and we looked on puzzled. Soon, all hell broke loose as riot police came from nowhere and ran at protestors.

Then Home Secretary Douglas Hurd claimed the men on the lorry had been ‘outside agitators’, yet others —  sympathetic to the strikers — claimed they had been police agents provocateurs. They certainly seemed appended to the demonstration rather than part of it.

 In theory, I was extremely skeptical about the notion that the police were there to maintain ‘law and order’ but in practice was horrified to see this being substantiated right before my eyes as I stood transfixed at the scene going on ahead of me, just at a safe enough distance.

Yet, at that time, there was much sympathy within the media and elsewhere for Rupert Murdoch and his attempts to revolutionise the newspaper industry by wrecking the unions who were often seen as Luddite and committed to restrictive practices, with many happy to turn a blind eye to the storm trooper antics of the uniformed men essentially guarding his plant, as if a private security firm.

With the revelations coming thick and fast about police culpability in the News of the World phone hacking scandal, the relationship between News International and the Met can now be seen to have been forged back in 1986-7. The Conservative government at the time wouldn’t countenance any suggestion of police brutality at the Wapping gates and its anti-trade union laws had anyway paved the way for Murdoch to begin his domination of the media in the UK and elsewhere.

The chickens have come home to roost for the current Tory-led government, mired in the scandal with all its close ties to Andy Coulson, Rebekha Brooks and Rupert Murdoch himself, for certain individuals in the police, rather than the force as a collective, who are by the day being outed as NI lackeys, and indeed for News International itself.

A British  journalist based in Warsaw, Colin Graham writes on culture in Central and Eastern Europe. He has written on the Polish satirical cartoonist Marek Raczkowski, the Stanislaw Wieglus scandal, Real Estate Investments on the Montenegro Coastline, as well as  Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan for

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