Ritzy community solidarity action

Article @ Lambeth Life, published 2 December 2017

If you’ve walked by the Ritzy on any Friday evening recently, you might have seen a group of angry residents protesting and urging you not to cross the picket line at the famous Brixton cinema. That’s because many in the local community have decided to side with the cinema workers, who are fighting to be paid the London living wage.

The Brixton Boycotts the Ritzy campaign was launched earlier this year, when members of the local community found out that, in spite of Ritzy’s owner Cineworld making £84 million in profit last year, it was refusing to pay its staff the £10.20 an hour that makes up the London living wage.

In the campaign’s official Facebook page, a statement reads: “As people of Brixton, we are disgusted by the way a huge multinational corporation is treating its workers. As a community we believe that it is our duty to rally in support of Ritzy staff, which is why we call upon the whole community to boycott the Ritzy cinema and bar in Windrush Square.”

The Ritzy was originally named The Electric Pavilion and opened in 1911 as one of England’s first purpose-built cinemas. It has been a cultural landmark in the borough, with a history of promoting art-house and radical cinema.

Local resident Liam Cooper spoke to Lambeth Life about the ten-year-long struggle for the London living wage and why people in the borough are standing by the cinema workers.

Lambeth Life: How did the local community get involved with the workers’ dispute and how did the Brixton Boycotts the Ritzy campaign start?

Liam Cooper: There was a fairly loose group of supportive local activists who had been coming to the picket lines and rallies since the dispute reopened last year. But the community campaign was really kicked into action when Picturehouse Cinemas (which is owned by Cineworld and manages the Brixton landmark) sacked four BECTU union representatives at the Ritzy in June 2017. The BECTU strikers called a demonstration a week later and, after it finished, us locals had an impromptu meeting to discuss how best we could support the victimised union reps.

It was such an aggressive move from Picturehouse we were worried about how demoralising it might be for the strikers. A major part of our motivation was to buoy up the workers and show them how much support they still had, as well as increasing the pressure on Picturehouse to reinstate the reps and pay the London living wage. We began holding regular community pickets outside the Ritzy, initially on every weeknight and later targeted at busy times, telling customers about the dispute and asking them to boycott.

LL: How have people in Lambeth received the boycott and the pickets?

LC: When customers hear about the sackings, the low pay, the refusal to recognise BECTU (in every cinema but the Ritzy), they are genuinely shocked and dismayed. Many customers either hadn’t heard about the dispute or thought it had been resolved a long time ago. Others think of the Ritzy as an ethical independent cinema and are shocked when they learn that it’s now owned by Cineworld. So, the support amongst customers is growing.

In terms of wider community support, many of us have been promoting the campaign within our local trade union and Labour Party branches, which has helped us spread the word and get lots of extra volunteers. We’ve also had tremendous support from other local community campaigns, for example the Save Lambeth Libraries campaign. The local news website Brixton Buzz has also done a great job of helping us get the word out.

LL: How can the community do more for the Ritzy workers?

LC: The best thing people can do to support the campaign is to boycott Picturehouse Cinemas and to write to the management to explain why that’s the case. To get management to listen, we really need to show them that their behaviour is giving them a bad name and repelling customers from their cinema chain.

The other ways people can help are by donating to the strike fund, which is crucially important to workers on such low pay as Picturehouse staff, and by spreading the word. Tell your friends, work colleagues, family, post about it on social media. The more people know what Picturehouse is doing, the stronger the campaign can become.