Picturehouse dispute - any lessons or analysis?

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R Totale's picture
R Totale
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Oct 26 2019 15:53
Picturehouse dispute - any lessons or analysis?

I remember a few years back, the Picturehouse dispute felt like one of the most exciting things going on in terms of UK workplace stuff, perhaps the closest thing any TUC union was doing to UVW/IWGB-type stuff - organising in an unorganised sector, actually fighting for proactive wins rather than just purely defensive rearguard stuff and so on. At some point, it seems like it all went very quiet, and this week BECTU put this out, which kind of reads to me like a sort of surrender: https://bectu.org.uk/news/bectu-response-to-picturehouse-ruling/

What happened? Is it just "some people got fired, there was a decision to go down a legalistic route rather than a direct action one, the legal route is never that good", or is there any more to say about it? And has there been any kind of critical analysis of the whole thing? Obv I'd prefer to see anarchist/syndicalist/autonomist-type analysis, but if anyone can find any half-way intelligent trot or labourist discussion that might be worth reading as well.

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Fozzie
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Oct 26 2019 16:22

Yeah I was wondering what had happened there. I went to one of the Hackney pickets and it was very lively and well supported by passersby.

This gives a bit of background to the tribunal but is obviously from a management/HR mag so hardly the autonomist analysis we would both like!

https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/news/articles/cinema-employee-accused...

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Oct 27 2019 18:28

Cheers for that, although the latest BECTU statement sounds like that decision's now been overturned - must be a horrible situation for the actual people involved, I can't imagine what it must be like to go for that long not knowing if you have a job, to get told that you're being reinstated and then have that overturned again months later. Presumably most of them will have found jobs elsewhere by now?
Also, I should really know better than to get wound up by things managers/HR people say, but "He said it was not the same as other forms of strike activity as it “deprived customers of a choice.”" So, an effective strike, in other words?

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fingers malone
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Oct 27 2019 23:01

I think Picturehouse wore them down, they fired reps, but they also continuously made legal threats, they made day to day working conditions for staff who were active in the union really unpleasant, and they were often able to keep the cinemas open on strike days by bringing in managers and staff from other sites and also hiring temp staff for strike days. It's a massive company and I think they were prepared to lose money and have a lot of aggro to hold out and not concede the demands.

Although a lot of people did boycott, plenty of people were prepared to cross picket lines to go in even though there are two other non Picturehouse cinemas in the area. People would even go in just to drink in the bar even though there is a pub literally next door. The strike never got bigger than a few cinemas, a few in London and one in Brighton, I don't know if any other cinemas outside the main (I think) seven were ever on strike.

I know reps were angry that BECTU was giving them less support later in the strike though I don't know the details.

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Oct 28 2019 11:27

One problem on the picket I was on was that people weren’t clear that the dispute was still ongoing and had bought their tickets online before turning up. I mean I wouldn’t cross a picket line if I had done that, but the cinema still makes its money and if you’ve just laid out twenty quid for you and your children for a night out you can see why that would be a tough decision.

So the internet blockade makes perfect sense really.

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fingers malone
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Oct 28 2019 17:58

In those situations we were asking people to go in and ask for their money back and people did that and got their money.

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R Totale
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Oct 28 2019 19:53

Yeah, it does sound like a useful tactic, I hope that people will find ways to do similar stuff in future without ending up with any one person's name attached to it.

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fingers malone
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Oct 29 2019 20:44

I think there is a problem with jobs where people can be brought in to cover the strikers' work without too much training, afaik employers are now allowed to hire temps during strikes and people are prepared to take the work. I know there was a cleaners strike recently at a hospital and they were bringing in lots of temps.

I felt that a problem was the strike not spreading, but I don't know if we could have done any better than we did in that regard.