A fistful of leaflets: Picturehouse Central day of action report
Community strike support activists Statler & Waldorf have sent in this report of their action at Picturehouse Central on Shaftesbury Avenue this Saturday. More reports to follow soon.
On 2 September, community groups across the UK organised a day of action to support Picturehouse workers in their fight for the living wage, union rights, and proper sick pay and maternity pay. At Cineworlds and Picturehouses around the country, activists were leafleting customers to explain the union’s call for a boycott, chatting to staff, and waving banners around. The pair of us went to go and support the workers at Picturehouse Central.
But like the attractive teens setting off on holiday at the start of a bad horror film, we had no idea of what was waiting for us when we got there.
The first half hour or so passed off very well: most customers took leaflets about the company’s sacking of four trade union reps; some stopped for a chat; and more than a few decided they wouldn’t spend money at a cinema that treated its workers so poorly, and turned away.
But soon, the Cineworld empire struck back: our leafleting was interrupted by the arrival of a manager. And he, we quickly learned, was not just any manager.
He was a badass.
“Who has given you permission to be here?”, he shouted, masterfully, into his walkie-talkie.
“The campaign for a boycott, started by your staff”, I ventured. He wasn’t impressed.
“You have to stand over there”, he yelled decisively into his walkie-talkie, gesturing into the middle of the road as a bus went by. We thought about it for a minute.
“Alright mate,” one of us replied. “If you need us to move, call the cops, and we will.”
Perhaps he was out of minutes. Perhaps he found the suggestion belittling (he was not tall): but in any case, he did not call the cops. Feeling his managerial authority under threat, he opted for a dignified silence. We found the silence uncomfortable, so we went back to leafleting.
A couple of minutes later, management dealt us a hammer blow. Two badasses bounded commandingly out of the building. Surely our fate was sealed. The trio made each other look bigger by standing in a little huddle, like the Anthill Mob. Impressed by the raw authority they exuded, we stopped to hear what they had to say. Their leader (identifiable by his chinos) was the first to speak.
“We do not want these leaflets in the cinema”, he said. His tone was not whiny and pleading, but imperious and manful.
“In that case, the best thing to do would be to stop sacking trade unionists and pay the living wage”, we responded. “That would stop leaflets being handed out in this cinema, and many others; things like this would stop happening.”
The two junior badasses looked thoughtful about this for a moment. But their chief would not be fooled.
“That’s a threat!” he barked.
“A threat?” I asked.
“A threat”, manager #1 concurred.
“Yes, a threat”, said the head of security.
“Threat”, they all said in unison.
“What’s a threat?”
“You know what you said.”
“That you should pay the living wage?”
“That if you did that you wouldn’t have leaflets in your cinemas?”
“You don’t know this game, do you? You’ve made a threat. There’s three of us that heard you.” They all nodded at each other and grinned managerially. “Now we’ll get your faces off the CCTV.”
This discussion concluded, these bad-assed leaders of men sprang into action. One was assigned to stand outside and stop us from leafleting by looking at us really hard. Another ran upstairs, presumably to photoshop knives into our hands.
The third manager had the toughest task. Dozens of his customers were reading leaflets about Picturehouse’s sacking of trade union reps and refusal to pay the living wage. This could be a reputational problem. It could undermine his authority. People were reading literally everywhere. Anarchy threatened.
There was only one solution: to command his customers to stop reading. He began marching around the lobby, restoring order by non-ridiculously and very authoritatively snatching leaflets off customers, and ordering café staff to do the same.
One customer, a British Airways worker who was himself involved in a strike at work, did not take the command to surrender his leaflet kindly. He made a show of continuing to read in the café. And then, still reading outrageously, he popped outside to tell us about his support for the dispute. Thanks, BA worker!
Obviously, we enjoyed all this a lot. So we’re going to come back, with more reading material – every week.
And that’s not a threat: it’s a promise.
Actually, it sort of is a threat. Especially if you’re threatened by people reading.
Statler & Waldorf