Yesterday’s picket of the FACT in Liverpool saw a dozen local wobblies and other activists come out at very short notice, in support of London Ritzy workers striking against Picturehouse cinemas for the living wage. We did everything we could to amplify their call – issued through the BECTU union – for a national boycott of the chain until the massively profitable company allow their workers to live decently. This is far more than can be said for Unite the union and their general secretary Len McCluskey, who planned to cross their picket line to – irony of ironies – see a new documentary about socialist novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. This was only cancelled at the eleventh hour when Unite got wind of our action.
As we reported yesterday:
“McCluskey was scheduled to be joined by Labour MP Tom Watson, and the documentary’s producer, Daniel Draper at 17:00. The event was arranged by Unite, and tickets were available through an email address associated with the union. However, Unite discovered our plans at the last minute, and tweeted a change of venue to the pier head convention centre. The tweet did not mention why the plans had been changed, and this is no doubt out of embarrassment due to the catastrophic faux pas.”
After the incident, the very best that can be said for McCluskey and his apparatchiks is that they are totally out of touch with class struggle as it exists in this country. If they were genuinely unaware of the vibrant, self-organised campaign of the Ritzy cinema workers, then that is a staggering level of ignorance for people supposedly paid good money to know about these things. In that case, this ignorance has been exposed by us – a bunch of genuinely working class amateurs, who do what we do because we actually believe in solidarity as a way of increasing our living standards and building a decent society.
On the other hand, if McCluskey and co. knew about the boycott call – as they should have done through BECTU’s appeal to all TUC unions – then they simply hold the Ritzy workers – and indeed all working class people – in total contempt. It has to be said, this option seems to make the most sense on a day when McCluskey has told Unite’s Liverpool conference that their biggest challenge over the next twelve months is to get the pro-austerity, anti-working class Labour Party back into Downing Street.
Anyway, yesterday wasn’t about £140k a year bureaucrats, it was about supporting the Ritzy workers’ campaign, and reaching out to ‘ordinary’ people who may have little or no knowledge of union politics, who just wanted to see a film, or were out for a stroll through town on a sunny Sunday. This was a brilliant success, with hundreds of leaflets handed out, many people turning away from the cinema (sometimes telling staff why they were doing so), and lots of great conversations. Our new banner was a great hit, and the ‘wobblies’ part attracted people who wanted to know what they hell ‘wobblies’ were. We were sure to let them in on the secret.
One particularly interesting aspect for me was chatting with people who were coming across ideas such as unions and boycotts for the first time. They asked many questions about the Ritzy workers’ strategies and ours, and in the vast majority of cases it clicked instantly. People are definitely starting to grasp that it is ‘us’ against ‘them’, and are looking for ‘new’ ways of uniting and fighting.
To finish, I want to return to the issue of Unite. As stated above, they have refused to explain to their own delegates and the wider world what the “unforeseen circumstances” were which prompted them to move the screening. The rationale for this is clear – we are the unforeseen circumstances, and that must be hugely embarrassing. But as far as we can tell, Picturehouse must have still been paid by Unite. The Unite bureaucrats are therefore still strikebreakers, and the only way they could remove this stain would be to issue a statement supporting the Ritzy staff, condemning Picturehouse, and demanding their money back.