"Not worried about rocking the boat": An interview with a striking Ritzy worker

"Not worried about rocking the boat": An interview with a striking Ritzy worker

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

  • 1. I'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

Posted By

Chilli Sauce
Jul 8 2014 10:44


  • We took the strike to both Clapham Picturehouse and Hackney Picturehouse. At both places we were welcomed by the staff and asked questions about how to unionise.

    Striking Ritzy worker

Attached files


Chilli Sauce
Jul 8 2014 23:02

Looks like the Ritzy workers will be out again on the 10th, which is pretty awesome:

We are pleased to announce that our next strike will be on Thursday 10th July from 6am until 5:30pm.

We have chosen this date because it coincides with a huge wave of national strikes by Teachers, Civil Servants, Council Workers and other Public Sector Workers against the continuation of real terms wage cuts that are leaving millions of workers providing vital services unable to sustain their basic standard of living.

Most public sector workers are low-paid women, they are being made to pay for the tax avoidance and wealth of the few, as we are being made to live on poverty pay to line the pockets of wealthy executives and shareholders.

On Thursday we will all stand united to say ENOUGH!

Join a union! Unionise your workplace! Fightback!

Chilli Sauce
Jul 17 2014 09:47

Another strike on Sunday, this time it looks like management intend to keep the cinema open and workers are calling for a mass picket:

On Sunday from 4:30pm The Ritzy workers are striking for the 11th time and have chosen this time because Picturehouse Cinemas are live-streaming Monty Python Live from the O2.

For the first time the company have decided to try and keep the cinema open and strike break.

So we, The Ritzy Workers, are calling for a peaceful, noisy mass protest outside The Ritzy to show the company that they cannot simply strike-break with impunity and to help us convince as many customers as possible to support the strike, respect the picket-lines and ask for refunds.

PLEASE invite as many people as you can, we want to fill Windrush Square with noise and send a really powerful message to the company that the local community supports the workers and will not allow them to continue treating us like this.

We need people there before 6pm please.

Please share it around: https://www.facebook.com/events/312933652200911/

Chilli Sauce
Jul 17 2014 09:50

Also, the London cinema workers march is today!

Found this quite funny line from an article in the Brixton Buzz:

Those coming along are encouraged to bring union banners and flags and home made placards (mass-produced placards – no doubt bearing the name of a certain political party - are discouraged).

Jul 17 2014 16:00

Some pics from twitter:

Chilli Sauce
Jul 17 2014 16:07

Yeah, the march was awesome. Really good fun, good attendance, and far more spirited than your standard TUC march.

Sep 25 2016 15:24

Ritzy Cinema workers out on strike today (and yesterday) over 'London Living Wage' claim likely extending to Hackney Picture House as well?

Nov 17 2016 17:27

More strikes planned by both groups of these cinema workers.

fingers malone
Nov 17 2016 17:36

Yeah there's a picket line at Hackney Picture House, Mare St, E8 from 4pm tomorrow (Fri)

Nov 17 2016 23:49
fingers malone wrote:
Yeah there's a picket line at Hackney Picture House, Mare St, E8 from 4pm tomorrow (Fri)

yeah I went along to their first strike a few weeks ago, it was great fun I highly recommend it. They are going to be out Friday, Saturday and Monday evening

Chilli Sauce
Nov 18 2016 00:34

Not that folks need encouragement, but I would second Steven in recommending folks get to the picket line if they can. They really are a lot of fun and the picket lines actually feel like picket lines. Any detailed report-backs would be great to hear as well!

Nov 18 2016 10:13
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Not that folks need encouragement, but I would second Steven in recommending folks get to the picket line if they can. They really are a lot of fun and the picket lines actually feel like picket lines.

On this, them actually feeling like proper picket lines, this has changed but in a good way. Back in the beginning the Ritzy strikers didn't shut the cinema, so they had obstructive picket lines. But in the recent wave of strikes both Ritzy and Hackney have shut both cinemas down each time, so instead of a confrontational picket line it is more a celebratory one (that said it is still important for supporters to turn up, because if they dwindled bosses would be more likely to try to open the cinemas again)

fingers malone
Nov 21 2016 19:59

Hackney Picturehouse picket was good, I didn't stay till the end but there were probably at least 60 people there. The cinema was open, the strike was solid but they had drafted in managers from other places and people doing their probation and they also changed the times of the films. Quite a few people who had already bought tickets asked for refunds and came out which was really nice. Some supporters went in to leaflet inside and were thrown out by the managers.

Can anyone write a report from the Ritzy?

Nov 22 2016 01:00

Yeah, me and some other people were covering about half of the entrances to the north side of the cinema. Five people entered over the course of the picket, and two of them subsequently left, after we had asked them not to go in. A few people we turned away as well.

But yeah, this was only a two-hour strike, which was a good idea but management essentially managed to beat it by moving the film start times, so actually business wasn't really disrupted. The workers have learned from this and won't be doing another two-hour strike.

Chilli Sauce
Jun 5 2017 18:56

More strikes upcoming. Management have responded by suspending 6 reps, with the disciplinary action as a result of management getting ahold of union meeting minutes:


Chilli Sauce
Jun 29 2017 14:11

Cinema strikes across London this Saturday, culminating in a big rally at the Ritzy at 4:00 to demand reinstatement of the sacked BECTU reps.

Info here. Donate here.

Chilli Sauce
Jul 14 2017 16:24

If you can be bothered to put up with Owen Jones' social democratic waffle, he's written a piece about the recent cinema strikes here.

Most interestingly, it contains mgmt's rationale for sacking the union reps:

In solidarity with the Ritzy workers, supportive members of the public block-booked cinema tickets. They didn’t pay for them: they were merely in their online baskets, preventing others from booking tickets. Here was an effective, ingenious even, means of solidarity.

When one worker sent an email to the union branch explaining what had happened and asking what activists thought about it, management responded. They accused the emailer of being complicit in a cyber attack. Others were accused of receiving information about the “cyber attack” and failing to report it. Dozens received it: but only four were singled out for dismissal. And all four of those workers happened to be union representatives.