Dan Langley reports from the BFI London Film Festival yesterday, where Picturehouse workers protested in their continuing struggle for a living wage.

Picturehouse workers from Brixton, Hackney, Central, Crouch End and East Dulwich came out in force yesterday, as their struggle for a living wage continues into its second year. Dan Langley reports from the protest at the BFI London Film Festival.

Picturehouse workers from Brixton, Hackney, Central, Crouch End and East Dulwich came out in force yesterday, as their struggle continues into its second year.

About 70 striking Picturehouse staff and supporters gathered outside the beginning of the BFI London Film Festival in Leicester Square, amidst wealthy patrons in black tie and a sympathetic public, who were asking many questions and offering words of support.

As we have reported previously, this strike is taking place in order to secure the London living wage, as well as for company sick pay, company maternity pay, and fair pay rises for supervisors, managers, chefs, sound technicians, and projectionists.

The Picturehouse workers are represented by the BECTU (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union) union and their reps were in the crowd, supporting the cinema staff.

When speaking to a rep, Theresa, she stated that, “BECTU will be on hand for every strike that happens in the next two weeks”. Much could be learnt by bigger trade union leaderships in the UK from these small but pertinent actions.

The management is refusing to acknowledge BECTU, as they say they will only talk with the clearly non-independent ‘Forum’ (a managerial project moonlighting badly as a staff association), which the Picturehouse set up and fund themselves! But the cinema bosses can only talk amongst themselves with their fingers in their ears for so long.

This time around, in an act of desperation, Picturehouse threatened the workers with mass sacking. Lawyers representing the Picturehouse chain stated that: “Any employee taking part in those strikes is likely to be dismissed.”

It is not clear whether or not Picturehouse management will go through with this threat. What is clearly unacceptable, however, is the attempt to silence and bully the workers, especially when Cineworld (Picturehouse’s parent company) made £81.3 million in profit in 2015 and saw an 18% rise in profits in 2016, gaining £93.8 million. Meanwhile, their employees languish on poverty wages.

The cinema workers have every right to stand up for themselves Doing so would in turn encourage other heavily exploited workers to rise up too.

Picturehouse bosses have responded this way, they claim to the bewilderment of their staff, because they have somehow come to the conclusion that they are already paying a living wage and that they consider this strike action illegal.

Holly, an employee at the Ritzy Picturehouse in Brixton, explained that this “mathematical gymnastics could be settled if they tried to become accredited living wage employer”. But the fact that Picturehouse are refusing to seek verification speaks volumes and demonstrates the absurd falsehoods.

Furthermore, Holly spoke about the fact that the current living wage standard is about to rise again with inflation - so what the management (incorrectly) perceive to be a fair offering still isn’t adequate.

Holly went on to say:

“We are here again, just like last year, as it’s a good way to reach people. We want Picturehouse to give us the living wage, sick pay, maternity leave and fair pay rises for managers. Sick pay is really important because of the nature of our work and our low pay; losing one or two days could really affect your pay.

“We wanted to get round the table and negotiate, but they only got around the table with us to tell us they won’t pay us more and they’re not willing to listen to any of our demands.”

When asked if she felt optimistic and what’s the next step, Holly replied: “yes, even if we haven’t achieved what we wanted yet…There are more strikes over the film festival weeks.”

Fellow workers and students alike should show solidarity to the Picturehouse workers and their struggle as it continues. They are struggling on behalf of all of us. Their fight is our fight. An injury to one is an injury to all.

Show your support and join a picket line at one of the following days of strike action:

  • 6-8th October - strikes at Hackney Picturehouse and Picturehouse Central only, from 5pm-7pm
  • 11-14th October - as above; strikes at Hackney Picturehouse and Picturehouse Central only, from 5pm-7pm.
  • 15th October - closing day of the London film festival - all London sites on strike from 3.30pm: Ritzy in Brixton; Hackney; Central; Crouch End; and East Dulwich.

Join your local picket and boycott Cineworld and Picturehouse!

Already recently we have seen victories for the SOAS cleaners and the LSE cleaners. With determined action and support from across the labour movement, the Picturehouse staff will win too - and so will the recently balloted Royal Mail staff, and all the other inevitable upcoming strikes as the capitalist crisis deepens and the fight continues.

We must stand firm together in order to win these gains - and we must fight for socialism to retain them!