Workers who print many of Britain's national newspaper titles voted last week to ballot on strikes against job cuts and a pay freeze. It is the first such vote in the national newspaper printing industry since the great defeat of the print unions at Wapping in the 1980s.
The unanimous votes came at a 75-strong meeting of the GPMU print workers' union and a 65-strong meeting of the AEEU engineering and electrical unions at the West Ferry Printers plant in east London. Both meetings were the biggest for a long time.
Over 400 GPMU members and around 130 AEEU members work in the plant which has a total workforce of around 800. The plant is jointly owned by the Telegraph newspaper group and the Express group.
As well as the Telegraph and Express newspapers, West Ferry also prints the Guardian, Financial Times, Star, Observer and other titles. Any strike would mean papers not appearing, costing their owners and the plant a fortune.
West Ferry wants up to 100 redundancies and to freeze its workers' pay. Yet the firm is projected to make £8 million profit this year. Workers feel they are being asked to pay for financial deals gone wrong elsewhere. Recent weeks have seen signs that a new bosses' offensive is stirring the first signs of resistance for many years.
At the Independent, also a couple of hundred yards from West Ferry, journalists voted a fortnight ago by 99.6 percent for union recognition. This is the first such rerecognition vote at a national newspaper title. Hundreds of redundancies are planned at Labour peer Lord Hollick's UBM magazine publishing firm. This is next to West Ferry printers.
The move has seen workers hold sizeable staff meetings in recent weeks. Just up the road stands the Newsfax printing plant, which will soon be printing the London editions of papers such as the Sun, News of the World and Financial Times. Workers hope to win union recognition there this month.
Union officials in print and media unions are keen to rebuild after the years of defeat, and are pushing for resistance. So at West Ferry union officials backed and argued for the move for a ballot on action.
A new generation of younger workers has also come into the industry. Many of these are increasingly angry at the way their jobs, conditions and lives are hit by the operations of the global corporations. It is too early to see where the new ferment in the industry will lead. But the first signs of resistance are important. The urgent need now is for the ballot at West Ferry to get under way.