A Year of the Ritzy strike

I’d rushed from the march to Finsbury Park to join the Ritzy strikers in Brixton, who were celebrating a year of striking for a living wage, though their campaign had began several years earlier, and I first photographed them outside the cinema in 2014.

Outside the Brixton Ritzy in July 2014

As I commented back then, “The Ritzy is the busiest and most successful art-house cinema in the the UK and can afford to treat its workers decently, but perhaps fear it will set a precedent for other workers in the Cineworld empire“. It is a large and highly profitable business, with a net income in 2016 of £82.0 million, but according to The Guardian (quoted by Wikipedia) 80% of its 4,300 staff are on zero hour contracts.

These workers are the victims not just of a greedy anti-union management who could easily afford employ their workers on proper contracts and to pay them a living wage, but of our anti-union governments, which have legislated to reduce the power of the unions and largely failed to make the laws we have about trade union rights enforceable and have not dealt with the zero hours loophole in contract law. And although we do have employment tribunals, too many employers still get away with the victimisation of workers for their trade union activities.

The strikers are members of BECTU, the leading union for the media and entertainment industries, which became a sector of Prospect at the start of 2017. It isn’t a union that has a reputation for militancy, and seems a little embarrassed by the activities of the Picturehouse workers and some of the groups that have supported them, including grass roots trade unions such as the United Voices of the World and the IWGB who were both at the Brixton rally and march.

I’d arrived as Poets on the Picket Line were performing, always interesting to listen too, but perhaps rather difficult to make particularly interesting still images. I took a few pictures while wondering if I knew how to use the video features of my cameras. I have made videos (and even in the long distant past ‘worked’ as an unpaid cameraman on a film, as well as making video recordings and real-time video editing on a campus TV network) but gave all that up after I stopped being a student and took up still photography.

I was told there would be a big surprise coming, and it arrived in the form of the newly acquired ‘Precarious Workers Mobile’ bright yellow Reliant Robin. There were also a number of speeches from supporters to photograph as well as a presentation to mark the anniversary, including some from the UVW involved in a dispute with the London Ferrari dealers.

I’d taken quite a few pictures and succumbed to the wiles of a few friends who were going to a nearby pub, where I had an enjoyable pint of a locally brewed beer (it’s become impossible to keep up with the number of breweries in London – in 2010 there were only 14, but the latest figure is 74) before saying goodbye and leaving. My timing was immaculate, and as I reached the steps into Brixton Underground I heard the noise of a protest in the distance and rushed to the junction with Atlantic Rd to see the Ritzy strikers and supporters coming along the road led by the Precarious Worker’s Robin, and photographed them as they made their way back to the Ritzy along the Brixton Rd, before returning to the station to make my way home.
One year of Ritzy strike


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