Union members and protesters are urging the Mayor of Lewisham to reject a cinema chain’s proposal to take over a publicly-owned Victorian bath house in Ladywell.
Lewisham Council announced it was inviting proposals on the development of the Ladywell Playtower in February, and the shortlisted applicants were recently announced.
The four shortlisted proposals come from Goldsmiths, who want to build a postgraduate art centre, two community cinema groups, and an organisation planning a cultural centre that would supply a mix of artist studios, cafés, offices, art galleries, and a small cinema.
Members of the public have voiced their opposal to Picturehouse, one of the cinema proposal groups, since the company has refused to pay the London Living Wage to its staff, despite making a £94 million profit last year.
Picturehouse Cinemas, which is owned by Cineworld, has been in business since 1989 and has 23 locations across the UK.
Picturehouse workers originally began protesting in 2014 at the Brixton cinema, resulting in what was called the “Ritzy Living Wage” campaign. The campaign remains ongoing and workers from other locations have joined.
In an online petition demanding Sir Steve Bullock, Mayor of Lewisham, to not choose Picturehouse’s proposal, protesters wrote: “Lewisham council is a living wage employer, so they acknowledge the importance of paying staff enough to survive in the local area. Lewisham is a labour-run council, so it should support unions like BECTU – who support a Picturehouse boycott and whose members are on strike in Picturehouses.”
Although the campaign won a 26 percent pay rise and an agreement to re-negotiate salaries in 2014, Picturehouse have since backtracked and refused to negotiate with the union.
A spokesperson for the Ritzy Living Wage campaign told EastLondonLines: “We urge the Mayor of Lewisham not to give Ladywell Playtower to Picturehouse Cinemas. We feel that such an endorsement of Picturehouse/Cineworld would send a deeply problematic message: that Lewisham council is not concerned about how the company has treated its workers over the last year.
“We recognise that Picturehouse cinemas have the potential to deliver huge benefits to local communities however we would encourage the Mayor to urge Picturehouse/Cineworld to become an accredited Living Wage employer, in line with similar support we’ve had from the Mayor of London Sadiq Kahn and the Mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville, before considering their application.”
In February,the Ritzy Living Wage campaign called for a boycott of all Picturehouse cinemas and have requested London living wage, BECTU recognition, company sick pay for all staff, and “maternity/paternity/adoption fair pay rises for supervisors, managers, chefs, sound technicians and projectionists”.
Staff from five Picturehouse cinemas recently protested during the BFI London Film Festival, which took place from October 4 – October 15. Staff protested at Leicester Square as well as at Hackney Picturehouse and Picturehouse Central.
Lawyers representing Picturehouse responded to the proposed protests by writing in a letter: “Any employee taking part in those strikes is likely to be dismissed.”
However, a spokesperson from Picturehouse also said: “After legal advice, we believe the current strikes would be unlawful and have informed BECTU of our view. We believe our staff will not participate in any unlawful action against the company.”
A spokesperson for Ritzy Living Wage campaign told ELL: “All protests between 5-15 October took place as planned. Picturehouse did indeed threaten to sack anyone who took part. Our legal advice was clear that this would be unlawful. Tellingly, no one who took part has faced any disciplinary measures.”
Two of the other proposals include cinemas in their plans. Guildmore and Curzon have partnered to propose a community destination that include a cinema. RJK/Copeland Park and Hillman, who manage the popular destination Copeland Park and Bussey Building in Peckham, hope to extend their success to Ladywell, which would include a small cinema.
Sir Steve Bullock, Mayor of Lewisham, will decide which proposal will be selected for Ladywell Playtower in mid November.
All of the proposals, along with visuals reimagining the playtower, are available to view here.