Two years after a prominent series of 13 one day strikes at the Ritzy Picturehouse Cinema in Brixton, The Ritzy workers are set to strike again. The strike ballot result is annonced today with union reps expecting a strong mandate to strike.
The previous strikes garnered national press attention, won a large pay rise to £9.10ph. All gained in return for a two year no strike agreement, which has now expired.
Now the Ritzy workers are coming strong back demanding what they didn't quite win the first time around. To name the basics; the living wage now £9.40ph, sick pay, compassionate leave and maternity pay. All as part of a 12 point list that most low paid precarious worker in London desperately need.
The Ritzy BECTU branch is not only demanding the living wage and these 12 points for themselves. They are demanding it for each of the 21 cinemas in the Picturehouse chain, many of which are paid drastically less than the Ritzy. They are calling on other cinemas to join them and have been working hard on outreach.
The Ritzy staff's previous strike struck a deeply resonant cord for many low paid precarious workers who are not usually organised in unions. Their demands received essentially very broad levels of support. Their pay demands of living wages and sick pay seemed reasonable and modest to most. Especially so when being levelled against a company like Cineworld, which is making record profits year on year. It has been a very good few years for the cinema industry with increasingly successful blockbuster franchises pulling up the box office receipts.
Cineworld is is 90% co-owned by two multi-millionaires with hundreds of millions in the bank. Sometimes in these cases firms like to create dubious moral ambiguities around the ethics of pay rises. Claiming that they are just acting in the “best interests” of shareholders. Shareholders who they claim are really “just the money of ordinary people like the pension fund investor”. Such a picture cannot be painted here. This is simply not the case here. It is two owners trying to pay as little as possible to each worker to squeeze out the maximum profit and dividend. It is the needs of the many vs the needs of two.
A key difference this time around for the strikers could be the seismic changes in the Labour Party. The Labour movement via groups like Momentum (if they get organised enough) and the Corbyn Leadership team are in a great position to provide support to the Ritzy strikers from Labour. Support which they badly needed but lacked last time.
There are three things which the Labour movement can provide and which the strike depends on.
How much public support and press the strikers can gain against the highly brand concious Cineworld group. Statements by the Labour leadership and Momentum could really help.
Can the strike spread to other cinemas in the Picturehouse/Cineworld chain. Nothing would frighten the bosses more than the prospect not one but many walking out on strike. It would also frighten them to hear of Momentum going to picturehouse branches across the country to talk to workers.
How large a strike fund can be raised? The larger this fund is the more strike days and longer the strikers can hold out for.
In return the Ritzy workers are very good for the trade union and Labour movement. Young people have become increasing radicalised and economically marginalised over the last 15 years. However they have not yet in large numbers taken up the most effective tools of struggle. They have not yet in droves piled into their trade unions as previous generations did. The Ritzy workers represent a key demographic that the Labour movement should want to unionise their success will surely inspire others to follow in their example.