Hackney Picturehouse workers striking for the London Living Wage, 4.11.16, photo Mark Best

Hackney Picturehouse workers striking for the London Living Wage, 4.11.16, photo Mark Best   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Clare Doyle

The young workers at the Picturehouse cinema in Hackney chose last weekend for more days of strike action as it saw the launch of the new Star Wars film – Rogue One. One of the pickets, Louis MacGillivray, regails the public and keeps up the spirits of his striking colleagues by singing out their demands to the tune of Star Wars (see video below).

Managers have been mobilised from other cinemas to try to keep the Picturehouse open, but few film-goers seemed prepared to go in. Support from the public is actually mounting, with passers-by handing over £20 notes to get the freezing pickets some teas and coffees or to put in the strike fund.

The workers are still angry. They say their employer must be losing thousands of pounds now, and could easily afford their modest claim for a living wage and proper maternity and sickness arrangements.

The strikers told me that the company bought the cinema – in the centre of Hackney – for just £1, and last year the group had a profit of over £83 million. The struggle goes on!

Video of chanting on strike

Additional report, 22.12.16, from Brian Debus:

Dozens of Picturehouse workers in Hackney started their five-day strike for a living wage on Thursday 15 December.

On the previous six days of strike action Picturehouse management had been forced to close the cinema down. This time they had brought in managers from as far afield as Oxford to try to break the strike.

Workers reported that staff on probation were forced to do double shifts on strike days under the duress of facing the sack.

Management had also served a threatening legal letter on Bectu, the workers’ trade union, to restrict the picket line to six members and force the other strikers onto the other side of the road.

Management normally only employs one security person, but on each strike day there were four, being paid up to £20 an hour for shifts of between 8 and 12 hours over the five days.

Money is no problem for parent company Cineworld that made £83.8 million profit in 2015, except when it comes to increasing its workers’ wages by 98p an hour to match the London Living Wage of £9.75 an hour.

This did not prevent the mainly young workforce from creating one of the most lively protests in recent times. With a percussion band, music centre, megaphoned rhyming chants, dancing and mass leafletting of the public they definitely caused a stir.

With the launch of the new Star Wars movie an appropriate placard on the picket line said ‘Don’t cross over to the Darkside’.

Many potential patrons turned round at the picket line and went elsewhere, and many more with pre-booked tickets went inside and claimed a refund and came back out to congratulations from the pickets.

At the end of the five days the strikers were in good spirits and looking forward to their next strike on Thursday 22 December.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 19 December 2016 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.