Workers at the Ritzy Picturehouse cinema in Brixton struck again on Saturday 15 and Sunday 16 October. They were joined on Saturday 15 by workers at Hackney Picturehouse on strike for the first time. A front-of-house assistant at Hackney PictureHouse spoke to Solidarity.
Before I joined BECTU, I was a rep on the Hackney Picturehouse “Staff Forum”. That's the staff organisation which is set up, supported and financed by Picturehouse itself. Over two years I found it to be ineffective, undemocratic, and unrepresentative, especially when we tried to bring forward questions about the Living Wage.
The Ritzy staff struck 13 times in 2014. That was a huge inspiration to me, and to others at Hackney: it inspired us, first of all, to go and speak to Ritzy workers about what we could do to get the Living Wage for ourselves. It fixed in my mind the idea that all employers should pay the Living Wage, especially Cineworld [the owners of Picturehouse], who have made £83.3million profit so far this year alone.
A colleague of mine knows a Ritzy Picturehouse BECTU member personally. So she came up to a meeting that we held amongst ourselves as Hackney staff. She gave us advice about how to get started. After that, me and another worker went to the head office of BECTU to meet other Ritzy workers, and BECTU officials. They were helpful in clarifying the precise steps we had to go through in the process of getting here.
I don't know about everyone else here, but this is the first job I've been in where I've been in a union. It wasn't hard to convince other workers here that Picturehouse should pay the Living Wage. And the experience of the staff forum made it clear to us that the next step would be to join BECTU. The 26% pay rise that the Ritzy staff won was a big inspiration, showing us what was possible. We've got very high union density in Hackney Picturehouse now.
This has really changed the atmosphere at work for the better now. There's more cohesion, an atmosphere of solidarity — it's made us all feel a lot closer. Have people's politics changed as a result of the strike? I don't know about everyone else.
Personally, my views have changed. The farther I've gone down the road towards this strike, the more radical my ideas have become. Once we decided to get mobilised and active it forced me to do a lot of reading and make sure that I believed that we were doing the right thing. And the process has only made me more sure that workers in this country are being constantly exploited, because employers have too much power and there are too few jobs to go round.
To other workers in our situation, I'd like to say this: you deserve a wage that's enough for you to live on, and you have the power to change things. Get in touch with a union and pressure your employer to pay you a fair wage.