Today, workers at four Picturehouse cinemas in London, who are members of the union Prospect, are on strike for a Living Wage, improved sick pay, company maternity and paternity allowances, and union recognition. The dispute has lasted for over 17 months so far, with workers locked in battle with Picturehouse’s parent company Cineworld, a corporate Goliath, now the second largest cinema chain in the world.
We called today’s strike deliberately to coincide with International Women’s Day. We wanted to reconnect the day to its labour movement origins, and on our picket lines we will celebrate the power of women who strike to change the world. Half a century ago, in 1968, 187 women sewing machinists walked out of the Ford Dagenham car plant, protesting unequal pay between men and women. They were joined by 195 workers from another plant, and won a substantial pay rise. The strike played a decisive role in the passing of the 1970 Equal Pay Act and its story has since been told in the 2010 film Made in Dagenham.
The Ford Dagenham strike was a huge step forward for working-class women, but there is much yet to be won. The film industry has recently been plagued with scandals – story after story has broken of powerful men, at the height of their long and successful careers, exploiting their influence and position to prey upon women they work with. The revelation that the film industry is harbouring abusers is hard to swallow, but unsurprising. The thousands of women who shared stories of harassment during the online movement #metoo last year are just the tip of the iceberg. And of course, harassment and abuse isn’t limited to the big names in the industry; a recent survey by Unite the union found that nine out of 10 workers in the hospitality sector had experienced harassment at work.
Economic exploitation is gendered too. Women still don’t get equal pay for equal work. Women are discriminated against in the workplace for having children. When a two-parent family cannot afford astronomical childcare fees, it is most often women that leave their jobs because typically their job prospects are worse, their pay is lower, and flexible working is, for most, unavailable. If the demands that we’re making of Picturehouse and Cineworld were rolled out across the economy, it would be predominantly women that would benefit. This is why we’re striking on International Women’s Day.
Picturehouse’s parent company Cineworld made £93.8m in post-tax profit in 2016. Their CEO took home almost £2.5m in salary and bonuses, while many workers live below the poverty line. If we’re sick, we miss rent. If we take maternity leave, we have to survive and raise a family on only £140 a week, the statutory minimum. Sadly, these conditions are not unique to Picturehouse. Millions of workers, most of them women, share our experiences.
Striking is the only option left to us – to disrupt work, to force our employers to treat us with the respect we deserve. When cinemas close due to strike action, it becomes clear who makes the company’s millions: the ticket-sellers, bartenders, projectionists, and the people cleaning your screens when you leave at the end of your film.
The women of Ford Dagenham were fighting against injustice, and through strength of collective action they made history. Like them, we are growing. Since the dispute began in September 2016, the strike has spread from one cinema to five. We’ve recruited hundreds of new members to the union, who collectively have taken many thousands of hours of action against Picturehouse. We’ve re-balloted every 12 weeks and never secured less than 90 per cent majorities in favour of strikes. We’re not going away, and we will win. This International Women’s Day, we celebrate the power of women who strike, and we celebrate our own power, and call on Picturehouse and Cineworld to pay us enough to live on.
Picturehouse responded: Picturehouse offers some of the best pay and benefits in the industry. In London we pay the equivalent of £9.92 per hour for our Front-of-House staff, and many staff earn significantly more. This is considerably higher than the National Minimum Wage of £7.50 per hour. In addition, we offer bonuses, paid holidays, statutory sick and maternity pay, and a range of other competitive benefits. Unlike many in the industry, we also offer our staff paid breaks.
These rates apply to staff at all our London cinemas except the Ritzy. Unfortunately, Staff at the Ritzy are represented by BECTU who have refused to withdraw strike action and enter pay negotiations.