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A cinema worker talks about working life on the less lucrative side of the silver screen

Cinema seats

I came in to work today and heard that there's a new guy starting as the operations manager and he's from a multiplex cinema down the road. He's replacing the current operations director who also used to work at the same multiplex cinema somewhere up north. What a coincidence. This new guy is the fourth person who has come in within two years and will start monitoring and ruling the cinema. I haven't met him yet. I don't think I want to meet him. Just the sound of this new guy makes me want to bang my head against the wall. I've given up on random people coming in on a temporary basis and restructuring our whole working system without any thought or consideration for our existing methods - only for them to leave and be replaced 6 months down the line and the whole cycle to start over again. I'm so used to this and to be frank, I'm quite frustrated and bored by it. I just don't understand these people, it feels like they have no soul or appreciation for the ethos of the cinema. 

It's all about the money, status and their egos. While Head Office directors and executives have their lavish lunch "meetings" (which they claim back from the company), we eat crisps and drink builder's tea at work to feed ourselves. They talk like politicians, wielding their Powerpoint presentations; which often look like an 8 year old's school project, with fake agendas and plans which have no benefit to their staff or their loyal customers but just to themselves. This is the answer to the question -  "Who are they? - in a recent article in Counterfire from another cinema employee. (Brave of you to write this and I salute you whoever you are, thank you!) All the previous three operations directors have come and gone. Not much improvement was made, instead they ruined the good systems we had in the cinema - the basis on which the cinema's good reputation was built on. They took their huge pay cheque and left. We are now being made to bear all the consequences of the changes, and the venue managers in charge of the cinemas are getting more pressure from their bosses.

Human rights films

I started to question things but it was internally. But then more confident staff members started to challenge the system; joining the union and starting their own campaign and a year after, the union was recognised. Because of this, some of the big bosses are not happy. I feel Head Office is very hypocritical and fake. They show a lot Human Rights films but they don't actually have the empathy and the awareness of what it means to be part of the Human Rights film exhibitors. How to be exemplary of these ideals on a basic level. Some venues want to show these films so they can make a difference but our cinemas show films just to make profit, enabling them to open more cinemas so the bosses can make more money. My friend at the cinema showed me an article in a newspaper recently and I choked on my crisps when I found out they are spending millions on opening new cinemas. This being whilst they insist they can't pay their staff London Living Wage. Their staff who are still picking up rubbish in the cinema screens at midnight after 13 hour shifts, 50 plus hour weeks. And all for six, seven quid an hour.

We live in a capitalist country and this is how the system works. My story is no different, no more unique, than millions of others across the country. The bitter taste that is left in my mouth comes from the mere hypocrisy of the company I work for. A company that promotes itself as being independent, supporting the arts industry and up and coming filmmakers; representing minority groups and niche subcultures in its programming. Delivering high quality and 'curated' content to a broad demographic; making art-house and foreign film accessible for everyone. But the company is caught somewhere between trying to cash in on this 'independent' trend and striving to remain a private members club for its wealthy founders' friends - the brand becoming gentrified and ostracizing the very people it claims to represent in its programming.

The company seemingly did the 'right thing' in acknowledging the staff's needs and recognising the union. But now we find ourselves in an all too familiar situation where there is an ongoing debate about pay with no solution in sight, and our responsibilities as general staff are doubling: our job description stretched, creating tension between venue management and staff, both of which are overworked.

Corporate cleaners

The previous cleaners (a loyal and hardworking South American family) were fired and replaced with a new 'executive' company. A company which cannot complete the previous cleaners' tasks and so the ushers are having pick up rubbish for the cleaners (until or often, after, midnight) to save the company money. This is to try and combat a pest problem at the cinema. However, as general staff paid minimum wage; we don't feel qualified for this job in health and safety and rodent control. Perhaps they just need get a pest control guy to come in to make friends with mice and negotiate? The mice would probably need to join the union. 

I've met some staff working at the Head Office, most of them are friendly people but there are a few that don't even want to be in the same room with us, breathing the same air. I've heard the new guy from the other multiplex cinema down the road is a nasty piece of work and pretty good at shutting people down. We've had a glimpse of this already with him banning us from holding a small, 30 minute union/staff meeting at work unless we pay to hire the area. Can you hear the banging on the wall? Yup, that's my head. I hope these rumours are wrong and I've banged my head for no reason. I really hope so.

I don't know how all this will turn out but what I know is I adore the cinema I work for and the people I work with, the customers and the films. I just want it to be like in the earlier days when I first started; everyone respecting each other and treating each other with love and kindness. All we have is each other as staff members. We are the only ones standing together and we are not going to be defeated by this new person or whoever it is who's going to come next. We have, and continue to out stay, most of the senior management they bring in. We have been challenging Head Office for a year now and with the continued support of our loyal customers, the press, the union, other cinemas, petition signees, activists and artists, I think we'll be fine. 

With solidarity,

A Cinema Worker


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