Shadow chancellor John McDonnell today (1 July) told striking Ritzy workers and their supporters outside the Brixton cinema that he and Jeremy Corbyn would try to give them all the support they can from the Labour Party.
He and other speakers stressed the national importance if the long-running campaign by the Ritzy workers to be paid the London living wage and pledged to fight for the reinstatement of union reps who have been sacked by Picturehouse.
A local trade unionist urged anyone who has even half an hour to spare to join the regular weekday evening “community pickets” of the Ritzy from 5.30 to 7 which, he said, were making a “big difference” to the trade of the cinema
The workers are employed by Picturehouse which is owned by the giant Cineworld corporation.
McDonnell said the whole point of the campaign “is that we just cannot tolerate any company in this city, in this country, not paying a living wage.
“That’s the first step. The second step is that we will not tolerate any company that victimises trade unionists. What we’ve got to do now is teach this company that when employers do that, it makes us more determined, not less.
“We have to turn this victimisation into a cause célèbre right the way across the movement.”
He said the management would regret the day they ever took on the union. “On behalf of Jeremy and myself, we will try to give all the support that we possibly can from the Labour Party.”
Ritzy union rep Ben Riddell told the protesters that visits to Ritzy when he was younger had determined his values – like compassion, community and caring.
“These are my values,” he said. “We are not going to allow this company to take those values and fill their pockets by their greed and not giving a shit about it.”
He had not been working at the Ritzy for long, but he had stepped up to be a rep, he said. “For every single rep they sack, another will pick up in their place. We are not going to be intimidated.”
Local MP Helen Hayes said it had been a real privilege to have supported the campaign from the very beginning. Its basis was “absolutely undeniable” she said.
The Ritzy had been saved by a local campaign. Cineworld, the ultimate owners of the cinema, were trading on the local and independent reputation of the Ritzy and a set of values and an ethos that they did not own to begin with. They were appropriating it for their own gain.
“It is absolutely wrong not to be paying your workers the London living wage if you are a local employer and it is absolutely wrong to be sacking trade union reps. It’s not only wrong, it’s illegal,” she said.
The MP said the campaign had a much wider resonance “for every single worker across the country who is in low-paid insecure work and every single worker who does not yet have the support of a trade union.
“We will see this campaign through because it has the power to change things for many, many more people across the country in all kinds of industries.”
She said she would soon be tabling an early day motion in Parliament to publicise the outrageous behaviour of the Picturehouse employers.
Author and journalist Owen Jones said: “This is a country where most people in poverty are in work”.
He asked why Picturehouse did not give in to the basic right of all workers to have “a decent wage on which they can live – that’s what they’re fighting for and they aren’t going to lose”.
The campaign was not only about the Ritzy and victimisation. “It’s about the right of every single worker in this country to have a wage on which they can live.
“Every single unscrupulous employer in this country should be scared by what you are doing,” he told the campaigners.
“This is about a society where the wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of a tiny few; where the law exists to stand up for employers to treat their workers as they see fit, rather than being on the side of working people.”
Workers all over the country would look at the victory of the Picturehouse workers and say: “If they can do it, we can do it too.
“Keep fighting. You are giving all of us hope.”
Local resident Be Atwell agreed, saying the campaigners were doing a good job, not just for the Ritzy, but for workers everywhere.
Denise McGuire, the president of Prospect, the union whose BECTU cinema section represents the Picturehouse workers, pledged its support for their struggle.