A short ten question interview conducted, via email, with one of the striking Ritzy cinema workers on the day of their latest strike. I
Last Sunday I went down picket line at the Ritzy cinema in Brixton. It was their 8th one-day strike in their effort to secure the London Living Wage. As always, the line was spirited and well-supported, with friends and supporters bringing by food and locals honking in support as they passed.
While there, I got chatting with one of the strikers about the dispute, the history of the union at the Ritzy, and how the living wage campaign is progressing generally. The following interview, conducted that evening and following day, covers many of those same topics.
1) You've been at the Ritzy for over a decade. What changes have you seen in that time?
There have been a lot of changes which have made the cinema become more commercial and mainstream, but at the same time a bit more efficient and much busier.
2) Tell us about what happened when the Ritzy was bought by the Picturehouse chain. How did they deal with the union?
When I started the Ritzy was already unionised. It was part of a small chain of arthouse cinemas called Oasis and the the cinema was struggling. It was bought up by Picturehouse and it was then that they tried to get rid of the union. Picturehouse created a forum that would be the link between management and the staff, a link run by the management. Ritzy workers refused and it went to court. Picturehouse got Cherie Blair to fight their battle, but they still lost.
3) Cinema workers in London are some of the most active and militant across the city at the moment. So, the question I have for you: why cinema workers, why now?
I can only talk from a Ritzy point of view, but the employees at the cinema are mostly creative people. The majority have something on the side that they are trying to pursue. I think means that they are not stuck in a way. They are open to see other sides of things and they're not worried about rocking the boat.
And why the timing? We didn't choose this. Our last pay-dispute covered us up
until now. We went into new pay negotiations and this is what we have been forced to do.
4) There's a big London-wide cinema workers march and rally on the 17th. Tell us about the process of linking up with with other cinema workers across the city. How did those conversations begin?
Ritzy is the only cinema in the Picturehouse chain that is unionised, which is a shame and something that is now hopefully going to change. We took the strike (set up picket lines – CS) to both Clapham Picturehouse and Hackney Picturehouse. At both places we were welcomed by the staff and asked questions about how to unionise.
The march has been organised by the staff reps at the Ritzy, so I don't know the details of it.
5) How did the idea for the London Living Wage campaign develop?
Again, I can only talk from a Ritzy point of view. I know that the campaign is growing and there are lots of other disputes, but for us it has been a goal we want to reach. We want our wage to be linked to the London Living Wage so that we don't have to be in the same position next time we are entitled to a pay-increase.
6) There's been an extremely positive public response to the living wage campaign, why do you think that is?
I think the public sees that companies should take responsibility.
It's not just up to the government and the local government to pay for peoples' standard of living. If companies paid proper wages to their staff, then they would not have to do a second or third job to pay rent or claim benefits to cover the shortfall.
7) What other issues do you face at the Ritzy outside of low wages?
Ritzy is a great place to work. The staff is brilliant and even the managers who are on equal or even more ridiculous pay are good hard-working people (that does not include the general manager though).
The issues we face come from head office and the ridiculous schemes they try to impose. The latest one is a weekly mystery shopper who grades all of the Picturehouse staff and then we're compared with each other. Who has sold the most memberships, etc, etc.
8) So far, y'all have had a series of one day strikes. What's the escalation plan from here?
We just completed the 8th strike and the escalation is the boycott that we launched at yesterday's strike.
9) What's the next step for the campaign - both at the Ritzy and for London cinema workers generally?
The next step is the rally in central London on the 17th.
10) Finally, what advice do you have for other service workers suffering low wages?
The first step is to get a union behind you. The union has been great and it means you don't fear for losing your job over a dispute. 1
- 1I'd note here that simply being in a trade union (or labour legislation which in theory should protect you from termination due to trade union activity) doesn't necessarily mean you won't get the sack for standing up at work. And, unfortunately, unions don't always defend their militants. However, there's no doubt that having the power of organised workers behind you offers one a lot more protection on the job. - CS