A Workers’ Liberty activist and Picturehouse striker spoke to Solidarity about the strike, the Labour Party and why they joined Workers’ Liberty.
How did you end up getting involved in the Picturehouse strike?
I’ve always had an interest in workers’ struggles, and the Picturehouse strike has been the first time that I could take part in one, so straight off the bat I was like ″Let’s do this, I’m behind this.″ At first I was a bit cautious because I was on probation, and you have a contract so it’s easier for them to get rid of you. But after about two months, I thought ″I’m a decent worker — let’s do this″. I went on strike when I was still on probation, and the company didn’t do anything.
Did that mean that other workers on probation got involved as well?
Yeah, a few of them. I think it galvanised a few of the newer workers, but I think they were still a bit cautious. In January they had a crackdown and used excuses to get rid of a few workers, and hired new ones on probation. But then the new probation workers were sent an email saying they didn′t have to work on strike days if they felt uncomfortable — meaning most probation workers didn′t work. Unfortunately this has since been reversed by the company. Now they rely on probation workers, and workers from other cinemas who are brought in to cover strike days.
Where is the dispute going next and what needs to be done to win it?
We've just re-balloted, and won that re-ballot. We will be striking again from late September, or early October, through to December. The way to win is more strike days. This period of Autumn to Winter is when all the big movies come out, it’s when our company makes a lot of money, so we need to strike at this time. We need to organise more strikes during film festivals, during Star Wars, all the big releases, and try to mobilise allies like those in the Labour Party, Workers’ Liberty, any left-wing people who are sympathetic to the workers at this cinema, get out there, even if there’s not a strike going on — organise community demonstrations and flyering sessions. Spread the word to boycott this cinema. Ultimately the only thing Picturehouse bosses understand is money. So losing money is the only thing that will really get their attention, that will get them to take notice. They will be forced to sit down with us as we have the power to affect how much money they make.
How did you end up becoming interested in workers’ struggles?
I was seventeen when they raised tuition fees to £9000 a year. I remember feeling angry, I took part in the student demonstrations of 2010. Obviously, we lost and fees went up, but I still thought people should fight and take part in collective action: if we can come together, if we can act as one solid unit, we can take down these people. I became politicised but didn’t really put it into practice: student politics never really interested me, I was never part of any unionised workplace, so when I joined this workplace and it had already started unionising, I was like, this is it, this is the chance for me to really put my principles into practice.
How did you meet Workers’ Liberty and why did you join?
We’d had a few leftwing organisations turn up to our picket lines, but of them all, I think Workers’ Liberty were definitely the most active, and most useful, as opposed to the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party, who offered nothing except their newspapers and the chance to turn up to a few of their things. Workers′ Liberty would turn up and give us advice on how to organise, how to organise workers, and organised fundraisers for us, as well as political ideas. Workers′ Liberty may be one of the smaller groups that I’ve come across but it is the most effective, and I thought, ″Yeah, I wanna get involved with these guys.″
The SP and SWP seemed like a bunch of old, sectarian people who were not very open to debate. Workers′ Liberty is, and I wanted to get involved in a democratic organisation where I can voice my opinions without being hounded out.
When we interviewed another striker, Kelly, she said it’s been very interesting at work because strikes had been happening alongside big political events, like Trump, Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn, the general election this year. Have discussions around politics changed at work?
Yes, especially during the general election, people were very much politicised. A few of my colleagues at work canvassed for the Labour Party and a few of my colleagues came up to me saying, ″Before I started working here I had no interest in politics.″ It’s interesting — there’s the strike action going on at the same time as other politics, for example John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn are in support of our strike, which has created a connection, and people are starting to see at work that there is a connection between trade union disputes, industrial action, workers’ struggles and the wider political landscape.
What needs to be done to grow that connection so more workers are involved in the Labour Party or other campaigns?
The Labour Party reaching out to workplaces, organising socials. You want the most conscious workers leading from the front, educating their colleagues at the same time. So it’s a two-way front of workers reaching out to political organisations and political organisations reaching out to the workers.
What would you say to young activists who have become interested in politics, for example through the Corbyn surge? What should they do?
Get involved in politics — not just voting every few years. Join the Labour Party. Take part in the democratic processes in the Labour Party, vote for candidates, canvass, campaign and if you’re in a workplace, join a union. Or where there is no union, be the first, make it a domino effect so there’s more in every workplace.
The thing about trade unions is, not only do they provide collective power to workers because they’re this massive unit, they also provide a framework to politicise people and educate people who aren’t politicised.
• A longer version of this interview can be found here