In 2014 Cineworld was subject to industrial action owing to its refusal to pay the London Living Wage to its staff.
Industrial action resumed in October 2016 over the issue of the London Living Wage, and as of March 2017 has spread to five Picturehouse cinemas, making it the biggest strike action ever by cinema workers in Britain.
After previous strikes actions in 2014, due to Cineworld’s refusal tto pay the London Living Wage, action resumed in October 2016 over the issue of the London Living Wage, and as of March 2017 spread to five Picturehouse cinemas. Workers gained a 26 per cent increase in pay. Yet Picturehouse has refused other demands, such as reform of the sickness pay system, recognition of trade union Bectu across all sites.
The Cineworld monopoly, the company that owns Picturehouse cinemas, made a post-tax profit of £82m in the 2016 financial year, during which time its CEO Moshe J Greidinger was paid £2.6m. Workers currently are paid only £9.75 an hour.
Workers are also angry that four Bectu shop stewards have been fired on spurious grounds. The cases have been taken to an employment tribunal court.
Prime Minister, Theresa May asserted at PMQs that “it’s about a relationship between employers and employees”, deliberately localising the issue away from the entire class and sidelining the strike’s political significance. The strike confronts the Government on both trade union rights and the Conservative position of the minimum wage.
Corbyn supporters and shadow chancellor John McDonnell, have joined the Picturehouse strikers on the picket lines and signed, ‘Early Day Motions’ in their support.
The call to action and response of workers in their union has signalled for all workers that they must organise basic organisation and push forward the political movement for their rights and the rights of all.
Bectu – the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union – says that across all of the Picturehouse sites, membership has gone up by about 50 per cent since October to around 320. This includes roughly 90 per cent union membership at the Ritzy cinema in Brixton where the strikes began. Gerry Morrissey, Bectu’s general secretary, says that “all union members are on strike”, adding: “We have no intention of abandoning these members.”
The independent workers movement has organised widespread support by organising community picketing in support of the strike.
Workers on strike at Picturehouse also want a change of government. They understand that it is independent political action outside of Parliament that has to push forward the struggle against Austerity. Jeremy Corbyn and the anti-austerity movement operates inside and outside of Parliament yet the struggle is limited inside due to the Conservative/D.U.P majority vote. Theresa May and the Conservatives are holding onto power by the skin of their teeth but are toughing out the crisis in the hung parliament and hoping to consolidate and split the opposition.
Yannis Gourtsoyannis, one of the leaders of the Junior Doctors’ Strike and Picturehouse strike supporter said the Picturehouse dispute was “a direct result of Government policy, as the Conservatives and their allies in business enforce austerity throughout the public and private sectors”. He added: “The best, and most crucial weapon against these plans is sustained and concerted industrial action.”
The Corbyn parliamentary group are hoping strikes threaten the Conservatives’ slim margin. The impact of low pay means that some government benches are feeling the pressure from their own constituencies.
The Picturehouse workers strike has become a signal and call to action to the rest of the Trades Union and Independent Workers movement.
Workers are showing that it is by developing their resistance and class struggle that the independent position of the workers can be imparted. A Workers’ Opposition to fight for the alternative, to defeat austerity and defend the rights of all is a necessity. Workers at Picturehouse cinemas are indicating the way forward as to how the working class as a whole should develop their offensive to bring about change that favours the people and grasp the opportunity to bring about a new direction for the economy and society.