Hundreds of workers took part in the biggest cinema strike in British history today, Saturday.
Members in the Bectu section of the Prospect union struck from 2pm at four branches of the Picturehouse cinema chain in London. It is the latest walkout in a gruelling dispute that has lasted two years—but also scored important victories.
Their demands include the London Living Wage of £9.75 an hour and maternity, paternity and sick pay.
At the central London site, near Piccadilly Circus, first-time strikers told Socialist Worker how they’ve built the union. Andrea Cencioni, the union branch secretary, said, “Bectu is not recognised at our cinema, but we have more members than in the Forum”.
Workers say the Forum is a bosses' union set up by Picturehouse to undermine Bectu and the demand for the London Living Wage. Andrea said, “There’s 110 people working here, but management recruited 40 people on zero hours contracts to undermine the strike.
“They are all on a three month probationary period, so they can't yet join the union.”
“Management had all of them working today, but gave everyone else the day off,” he added.
Bosses at Picturehouse have refused to negotiate with workers and have threatened them with legal action to stop the strikes. Their lawyers sent letters to the union insisting on six pickets per site.
But the workers have remained resolute in the face of the bosses’ intransigence. Holly, a Bectu rep at the Ritzy cinema in Brixton, south London, said, “Picturehouse prefer to threaten us with legal action rather than negotiate.
"There are constant scare tactics and attempts to distract us to stop us organising.”
Picturehouse’s parent company Cineworld made over £83 million last year—the idea they can't afford to pay the living wage is laughable. As Holly added, “We know they're not short of money though.
“Cineworld just bought the Empire cinema in Leicester Square."
In conditions where it is hard to organise, workers’ have fought to build the union during the last two years. Holly said, “When we started at the Ritzy cinema two years ago, we said we need more sites to come out with us.
"Now we do—and it's inspirational.”
This has given them confidence to fight on.
"Those sites are growing quickly and there's a strength and confidence that we give each other,” she added.
Workers are determined to keep up their fight—but they need solidarity to beat back the bosses. Gloria, who was picketing the central London site, said, “This is the first time we've been out on strike, but I doubt it will be the last.
“London mayor Sadiq Khan wrote to the CEOs of Cineworld recently supporting our campaign—but we need action not words.”
Workers have called a demonstration for 25 February.
This should be a focal point for trade unionists and campaigners to build solidarity with their fight.