Giants of the UK film industry have rallied to the cause of low-paid London cinema workers fighting for a living wage.
Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Patrick Stewart, Richard Curtis, Lindsay Duncan and local Oscar winner Sir Mark Rylance are just a few of the stars backing the campaign for the Living Wage at Picturehouse cinemas.
The campaign, which began at Brixton’s Ritzy, is now calling for a public boycott of all Cineworld and Picturehouse cinemas – the owners of the Ritzy and other cinemas.
Cineworld Group plc is the second largest cinema operator in Europe and owns the arthouse chain, Picturehouse, of which the Ritzy is a part.
The leading creatives have written to Moshe “Mooky” Greidinger, Cineworld’s CEO, telling him they support the Picturehouse workers’ call for a boycott, and urging him to pay his staff the Living Wage.
More celebrities pledge their support every day. Among the latest are writer Caitlin Moran – “So vexed I can’t go to the otherwise brilliant Picturehouse cinemas” – and comedian Mark Thomas.
Paying the London Living Wage is not a problem for other cinema companies like the arthouse chain Curzon cinemas, the BFI Imax and BFI Southbank – all of which also recognise the cinema workers’ union BECTU (a sector of the 140,000-strong Prospect trade union).
The fight for fair pay across Picturehouse cinemas began at The Ritzy in Brixton in 2014 and escalated in 2016 when management refused to negotiate with workers over a claim for the London Living Wage; company sick pay for all staff; company maternity/paternity pay for all; fair pay rises for different roles; and union recognition for the union chosen by the workers of the striking sites. (BECTU is recognised at the Ritzy).
Members at the sites were balloted for strike action and returned a 95% vote in favour on a turnout of 75%.
The Living Staff Living Wage campaign has now become the biggest cinema workers’ campaign in UK history with staff at four Picturehouse cinemas – The Ritzy, Hackney Picturehouse, Picturehouse Central and Crouch End Picturehouse – on strike on Saturday 11 February.
A second strike involving all four sites is taking place today 925 February) with strikers joining supporters in London’s Leicester Square at midday for a mass demonstration ahead of Oscars Sunday.
The staff are defying attempted intimidation by Picturehouse, which has threatened its workers and their union with legal action over unfounded claims of unlawful picketing, intimidating behaviour, and playing “racial” music on picketlines.
Other supporters of the campaign include actor Ricky Tomlinson – himself imprisoned for trade union activity when he was a building worker. He wrote: “Cineworld is a very successful company that made a substantial profit of £83.8million in 2015 and it is vitally important to share your success with your workforce.”
Olivier Award winning actor Bertie Carvel said: “I love independent cinema and enjoy going to Picturehouse theatres because they give a platform to the smaller films that would otherwise get drowned out by commercial goliaths.
A successful company with such huge profits should share that success with its workers
“That’s why I’m so disappointed to hear that they are refusing to negotiate with their lowest paid workers who want to be paid a living wage, and refuse to recognise their union. It seems these cinemas aren’t the champions I thought they were.”
London mayor Sadiq Khan has also written to Greidinger to urge him to return to negotiations with union representatives.
He said: “It goes right to the heart of how we make London a fairer and more equal city for those who live and work here. The London Living Wage makes a real difference to families in in-work poverty … I would really encourage you to do everything you can to ensure your staff are receiving the LLW.”
Ritzy worker Kiv Legate said: “With so many people calling on Mooky to pay his workers a living wage, it’s hard to believe his determination not to do so.
“A successful company with such huge profits should share that success with its workers.”
Picturehouse workers have already received notable support for their campaign from leading creative industry figures including Ken Loach, Danny Boyle, Eric Cantona, Andy Serkis and Owen Jones.
At the UK premiere of his new film, I, Daniel Blake, in Liverpool on September 24 last year Ken Loach said: “The Ritzy strikers are heroic. Picturehouse is owned by Cineworld, which is a big multinational corporation. They make fortunes.
“The idea that they pay starvation wages because they can get people who are desperate for work is absolutely shocking. Victory to the Ritzy strikers, no doubt.”
The letter sent to Greidinger by leading members of the creative community, reads as follows:
Dear Mooky Greidinger
I am writing in support of the Living Staff Living Wage campaign. I find it disappointing that you fail to pay your lowest paid staff the Living Wage.
I therefore support your workers in their call for a public boycott of Picturehouse and Cineworld. Cineworld is a very successful company that made a substantial profit of £83.8million in 2015, and it is vitally important to share your success with your workforce.
Workers should not have to live below the real living wage when your company has the means to set a great example by adhering to the ethical pay structures proposed in the Living Staff Living Wage pay claim.