On Saturday 18 March, workers at five Picturehouse cinemas struck in their ongoing dispute for the Living Wage and union recognition. It was the first strike by workers at the Duke of York cinema in Brighton. The strike was successful.
The Duke of York strike marks the first time our campaign has reached out of London. In addition to about 50 workers coming down from London to demonstrate outside of Duke of York’s, we were joined by lots of supporters from Brighton. The Duke′s workers came away feeling quite positive about it.
Over the course of the day they recruited quite a lot of new members — some workers who weren′t working the day shift, and had previously not joined the union, ended up not go in for their scheduled evening shift. We also marched from the Duke to the Komedia cinema, another Picturehouse branch in Brighton. We are confident that staff at the Komedia will soon get involved in the dispute.
East Dulwich Picturehouse is currently being balloted to join the strikes, with the result expected on 29 March. This will be the sixth cinema in the chain on strike. We want to tour other UK Picturehouses, which are currently not on strike, and organise meetings with workers. We are starting a campaign for statutory recognition.
This won't happen overnight, but we think we currently have half the numbers we need to win a statutory recognition ballot. We don’t want to rely on the law, though, and whilst we do this we want to spread the strikes to new sites.
There is also now a boycott of Picturehouse and its parent company Cineworld. A lot of celebrities are getting involved in the boycott campaign and calling on Cineworld and Picturehouse to pay the Living Wage. In addition to individuals boycotting Picturehouse and Cineworld, which could be useful but won’t be decisive in the dispute, the boycott is gathering pace with Picturehouse partners. For example the Human Rights Film Festival has said it will not host its festival with Picturehouse next year if it does not pay the living wage, and NUS NEC has passed a motion calling for its member student unions to remove Picturehouse from their freshers’ fairs.
More strikes are planned for 31 March, to coincide with the release of Ghost in the Shell. Picturehouse and Cineworld have demonstrated that they are not prepared to ″play nice″. The union and individual activists have been receiving legal letters with ludicrous threats, which are factually incorrect. But none of these threats have yet resulted in legal action. The intent is to intimidate the union and activists, whether or not there is any substance in the threats, and to tie the union up in replying to and examining legal threats.
As a consequence of this, as well as the new Trade Union Act, we have seen greater regulation put on our picket lines and protests. The latest issue is having a picket supervisor, and our union Bectu is currently not allowing this to be a lay activist but rather a full-time union official, meaning Bectu does not have enough staff to cover pickets at all sites. We have the capacity to organise strong and effective picket lines which turn away cinema-goers, and the campaign has great momentum.
It is frustrating when we have that sort of momentum to have restrictions placed on us organising effecive picket lines by the law, but also by our union which, rightly or wrongly, is increasingly nervous of legal action and is therefore being overly cautious. We should be cautious to not put members at unnecessary risk, but it needs to be weighed up with the need to win the dispute. At a certain point we have to push back so our action is effective.
• The Picturehouse strikers have a new website with resources for supporting them
• Lewisham Momentum will be leafletting Greenwich Picturehouse for the boycott on Friday 7 April
• Write to your MP and ask them to sign EDM 1000 in support of the strikes