Picturehouse strikers set for nine-day walkout despite bosses’ sack threat

Hundreds of workers will walk out tomorrow, disrupting the BFI's London film festival, demanding the living wage, union recognition and the reinstatement of sacked strikers.

Workers at Picturehouse cinemas who are planning nine days of strikes starting tomorrow despite being threatened with dismissal by the management for taking part in ‘unlawful’ industrial action.

“Any employee taking part in those strikes is likely to be dismissed”, says a letter sent by the company’s solicitors to the strikers.

Hundreds of workers at five cinemas in London plan to walk out tomorrow morning, disrupting the British Film Institute’s London film festival, which is due to take place between the 4th and 15th of October.

The strikers are demanding the London living wage, sick pay, recognition of their union (BECTU) the reinstatement of four sacked union reps at the Ritzy in Brixton.

However a letter from the cinema chain’s lawyers, Mishcon de Reya, says that the strike action is ‘unlawful’ and that the strikers ‘have lost the mandate for striking’. The solicitor’s letter continues:

“Our client is minded to dismiss any employee who takes part in the strikes by reason of having taken part in unofficial industrial action.”

The strikers say that they’ll continue with their planned walkout despite the threats, however.

The current round of industrial action started at the Ritzy cinema in Brixton in September 2016. In January the Ritzy strikers were joined by workers from Picturehouses in Brixton, Leicester Square, Hackney, Crouch End, Dulwich and Brighton.

Kelly Rogers, a former Picture House employee and BECTU union rep who was suspended by the cinema, allegedly for taking part in union organising, said:

“We’re up against a big company and they have a lot of resources to put into resisting the strike. I think they want to demonstrate that they can crush us, unequivocally.”

“Cineworld took over Picturehouse around 2012. They made £93m in post tax profit last year and the CEO took home £2.5m in pay and bonuses, which was an increase from £1.2m the year before”, says Rogers. In this context, the strikers demands appear minimal.

The strike has a number of high profile backers. In July, shadow chancellor John McDonnell joined a picket line and told the assembled crowd: “The Labour party will give all the support we can to this strike”. He went on:

“Picture House will regret the day they ever took on this union. We’ll be upping the action with all the support we can. Showing the employer that it’s the whole workers’ movement they’re up against.”

Despite the legal threats, hundreds Picturehouse workers plan to walk out tomorrow and for the next week and a half. The strike campaign are calling for a public boycott of Picturehouse and Cineworld cinemas. You can follow the action here on their Twitter.

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