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Mention Eddy Shah to people and you get a mixed reaction. In 1983, as the owner of a print works in Warrington in Northern England he was at the centre of one of the most bitter industrial disputes seen in the UK.
As the owner of six local newspapers he was determined to use modern technology (desktop publishing) to print them, this meant breaking the monopoly of the print-workers supported by their Trades Union to operate the print machinery. The newspapers and magazines of the time were written by journalists on their typewriters and their words were either typeset by using hot metal to create a printing plate or by operating computers to set the page. The traditional technique was highly skilled work and required a seven year apprenticeship. The workers were in short supply because they restricted the number of apprentices; as a result they had great power and commanded high wages.
During the dispute there were times when 10,000 people were picketing Eddy Shah’s premises. This was a protest not only against the threat to the print workers livelihood but also against the new labour laws which restricted the right to strike. After seven months the dispute came to an end and the way was paved for newspapers to be printed using modern technology.
Rupert Murdoch went through a similar dispute in January 1986 as News International moved print operations from their traditional home in Fleet Street, to modern, purpose built, highly automated premises in Wapping.
It could be argued that the transformation of the UK newspaper industry could have been achieved in a more co-operative way. However, when established practices become intractable and the rules become immovable it becomes highly risky to get to the next level. Eddy Shah took the risk, showed great determination and ultimately allowed the printing industry to develop. He was a Paradigmeer of his time.