Workers at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton, South London, were back out on strike on Saturday 24th September, taking action to demand decent pay and conditions. Nico reports on the militant mood on display at the picket line, and the potential for this strike to spread.
On a sunny afternoon on Saturday 24th September on Brixton High Street in South London, a speaker blasts out music. A young woman at a stall is selling t-shirts stickers and more. It could be any other Saturday afternoon. But these aren’t any ordinary t-shirts. These t-shirts are in support of the striking workers at the Ritzy Cinema.
Behind her, outside the cinema, stands a 25-strong picket, with strikers – members of the BECTU union – waving flags and handing out flyers. These workers are young, enthusiastic determined and militant.
I had a quick interview with one picketer, Kelly.
Kelly explained how the Ritzy workers were striking in order to be paid the London living wage, and for company sick pay, company maternity pay, and fair pay rises for supervisors, managers, chefs, sound technicians, and projectionists.
The last wave of 13 strikes at the Ritzy back in 2014 resulted in a 26% pay rise. The lesson: militancy pays. However, due to the miserly wages of cinema workers, these gains still meant that those at the Ritzy were paid well below the London living wage.
During the two-year no-strike agreement, the Ritzy Cinema had stonewalled negotiations. Any demands the BECTU union had for pay rises, even to raise pay to the miserly level of the London living wage, have been ignored.
Kelly told me how today’s strike would be the first of many if the bosses at Picturehouse cinemas, owned by giant cinema chain Cineworld (which incidentally made £81.3 million pounds of profit after tax last year), refused to listen to its employees.
“We don’t want to announce strike dates now,” Kelly stated. “We don’t want to give them a chance to send over employees from other cinemas.”
Kelly went on to explain how many of the staff were supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and several were off to the Momentum fringe event in Liverpool that was beginning that day.
“He [Corbyn] is on our side,” Kelly continued; “on the side of young workers living precariously. Hopefully when he is not busy getting re-elected he will come down and support our strike.”
Not that the strike is lacking support from the local community. Whilst I was there, a small brass band turned up, showing their support by playing the Imperial March from Star Wars.
Workers at other Picturehouse cinemas have already taken inspiration from the actions of those at the Ritzy and will likely follow suit with their own strike action. workers at the Hackney Picturehouse in London, for example, are already balloting for the same demands as Ritzy workers.
The bosses should watch out – workers are striking back!