As the rich prepare to dish out gongs to those at the top of the film industry—cinema workers struck to get decent pay for those at the bottom.
Some 100 people joined cinema workers for a protest in Leicester Square, central London yesterday, Saturday—the day before the Oscars.
The protest was part of a strike by members of the Bectu union at Picturehouse cinemas in London. They are demanding that bosses at Cineworld, which owns Picturehouse, pay them a living wage.
“Tomorrow they’re celebrating the stars, today we want to put a spotlight on the workers in the film industry,” Alasdair from Hackney Picture House told Socialist Worker.
“We want to focus on the other end of the spectrum. The main purpose of today is to announce an official boycott of Cineworld cinemas.”
Some workers agreed that a boycott could make a big difference—and at sites like the Ritzy in Brixton where the campaign has a lot of local support it could.
But at Cineworld’s larger, commercial cinemas outside of the Picturehouse brand it will be much harder.
One of the campaign’s big strengths so far has been the speed it has grown and its militant tactics.
That has attracted workers to join the Bectu section of the Prospect union rapidly. “We began our campaign six months ago,” said Morgan from the Crouch End branch of the chain.
“Now 80 percent of people who work there are in the union and the kitchen staff will join soon too.”
Workers are recruiting colleagues to the union hand over fist at Picturehouse Central, around the corner from the Leicester Square protest
Andrea, one of the reps, told Socialist Worker how people joined the union after the last strike two weeks ago.
That saw workers at the Crouch End and Central cinemas join the fight for a living wage for the first time.
“People at Central are empowered,” said Andrea. “A lot of people joined the union after they realised they’re not going to lose their jobs.
“Half of the workers at Central walked out today—that’s a big improvement from last time.”
Everyone had stories about management’s bullying tactics and attempts to put down the growing movement.
“They filmed us on the picket lines to try and intimidate us,” said Alasdair from Hackney.
Bosses tried to undermine the previous strike by bringing in workers from other Cineworld cinemas to work at the Crouch End site, according to one worker. They didn’t tell them about the strike beforehand.
And at Central they put five "runners"on the rota. They'reused ascover for busy periods, and normally there's only one person on the rota for that job.
“Rent is going up, travel costs are going up. If you’re on minimum wage then you make about £1,000 a month after tax,” Andrea told Socialist Worker, underlining the need to fight for a real living wage. “What’s left? You’re working to pay the bills. People are being kept in poverty.”
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell came down to offer solidarity and reiterated the point. “Two thirds of children who live in poverty come from families whose parents are in work,” he said.
“We need determination, courage and solidarity, with these we will win.”
Meanwhile, Cineworld CEO Moody Greidinger could top up workers’ wages to the London Living Wage of £9.40 an hour and still take home a six-figure salary.
The strikers need solidarity from all trade unionists—and support from the union's leaders at every level.
“This strike is not just for us to get the living wage, said Andrea. “It’s for everyone on the minimum wage. We want to be at the vanguard of that movement."