Picturehouse cinemas have suspended seven Bectu trade union reps, in the midst of ongoing strike action.The dispute for a Living Wage, decent sick pay, maternity/paternity pay, and union recognition has run for over 10 months so far.
Over forty strike days have been held across six Picturehouse cinemas. Most recently workers at five of the cinemas struck on 3-4 June, disrupting the Sundance film festival which Picturehouse was hosting.Picturehouse, and its parent company Cineworld, have adopted an aggressive strategy of intimidation in response to the strikes. Since the beginning of the dispute they have been threatening both workers and their union Bectu with legal action, over a number of spurious allegations, such as playing “racial music” on the picket line.
The suspension of all six trade union reps from the Ritzy cinema in Brixton, and one rep from Hackney Picturehouse, marks an attempt to behead the dispute by removing some of its key organisers. The Ritzy is where the strikes originated.The allegations being levelled against the reps refer to protest activity undertaken by supporters of the campaign on strike days, not the workers themselves. These protests were discussed in a cross-site union meeting and over e-mail, which was then leaked to management.Infamously unscrupulous, Picturehouse may have made a calculation that they would rather risk paying out large sums in compensation following tribunals, in order to undermine the strike now.
Already news of the suspensions has been met with considerable criticism. The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, weighed in on the subject,“The whole labour movement will stand shoulder to shoulder with victimised workers at the Ritzy cinema and across the Picturehouse chain.
“Actions such as these from Picturehouse management are an attack on all of us and they reflect an economy in which it has become normal for workers to be precarious, underpaid and exploited.
“We will outlaw zero hours contracts and make sure that everyone is paid a real living wage, and we will ensure that workers have access to justice and that big corporations cannot act with impunity.”
In the event of dismissals then it is important that McDonnell’s words are made true.The Picturehouse dispute isn’t just important because the workers need a pay rise. Workers have organised in a sector that is typically seen as impossible to organise, and they’ve grown their dispute from one to six cinemas, with more expected to follow in the coming weeks. Up against a multinational Goliath, they’ve come under a lot of pressure but have stood fast. The whole labour movement needs to mobilise to support us.
The suspensions represent the greatest attack by the company on the campaign to date, but also an opportunity. After bosses were forced into saying they would meet the union after being confronted by workers at Cineworld′s AGM, a negotiation meeting is set for the end of the month. A strong response to these victimisations could mark a decisive turn in the campaign.Support the victimised reps:
• Send messages of protest to Cineworld
• Send messages of support to Ritzy Living Wage, twitter: @RitzyLivingWage and @HPHLivingWage
* Since this article was published we have heard that three of the reps have now been sacked, but charges against the rep from Hackney Picturehouse have been dropped.