On Wednesday 4 October, workers from five Picturehouse sites walked out on strike, in the face of intimidation and threats of dismissal from Picturehouse management.
We walked out and converged on Leicester Square where the opening gala for the London Film Festival, organised by the British Film Institute (BFI), had a red carpet of big names from the film industry. Whilst most of the great and the good at the gala tried to ignore the angry cinema workers inconveniently blocking their path from the champagne reception to the red carpet, some supported us. Actor and director Andrew Garfield supported the strikers, telling Sky News “It’s awful. It’s indicative of every aspect of our culture now, this massive social divide.”
We are now in the middle of a two-week period of strikes, on 6-8 and 11-15 October. We will also demonstrate at Hackney Picturehouse on 15 October for the closing party of the film festival. So why are we doing this during BFI London film festival. What exactly is our beef with the BFI?
BFI have been aware of our dispute for a year now. In 2016 when we struck during London Film Festival, you could perhaps pardon their ignorance, as our strike was in its early days. However it has been a whole year. Our union, BECTU, contacted them and tried to get them to pull out of Picturehouse sites, but they refused to do so (only pulling out of the Ritzy in Brixton). They have shown that they do not care about the welfare of the Picturehouse workers. In holding their event, a prestigious film festival, at Picturehouse cinemas, they legitimise Picturehouse and they way it treats its workers.
The BFI should be ashamed. Another example of companies that hide behind an ethical, liberal, mask but when it comes to the crunch side with the bosses, the only thing that really matters is profit.
Picturehouse has threatened to sack any worker who goes on strike. Why? Picturehouse consider our ballot to be “invalid” and any resultant strike action “unlawful”. According to them we already get paid the London Living Wage. This isn’t true.
Our pay is £9.30; but the current Living Wage is £9.75. To be a Living Wage employer, you must sign up to the Living Wage Foundation and become accredited, and pay the living wage in line with inflation rises. We challenge them to do this.
How have we responded? Most workers have called Picturehouse’s bluff, and walked out on strike. Despite the precarious nature of our work we will not be intimidated or bullied. We will stand strong in the face of adversity, we will stand united, and we will win.
Picturehouse is worried about the damage the strike is doing to their reputation and are lashing out at workers in response. So far no worker has been victimised for taking part in the latest round of strikes. We still need support, so I appeal for people to come to our picket lines and support the campaign. If we win, we can set a precedent that even the most precarious and vulnerable of workers can still resist exploitation and win.