The People's Cries

About domination and its effects: and about resistance to exploitation and abuse through solidarity.

Month: December, 2017

Now showing at your local cinema – wealth extraction and dire poverty

IMG_9295In 2007, Picturehouse staff at The Ritzy cinema in Brixton began a campaign for a Living Wage.

In 2014, following 13 high-profile strikes through their union, BECTU, the Ritzy staff gained a 26% pay rise and an agreement with Picturehouse Cinemas (owned by Cineworld) to re-negotiate towards the London Living Wage in June 2016. The company back-tracked on this and have refused to negotiate in any way.  In 2017 they sacked all but one of the union reps at the Ritzy.

Since then workers at Hackney and Crouch End Picturehouse, Picturehouse Central, and the Duke Of York’s Picturehouse in Brighton have joined the campaign. At these cinemas the company has repeatedly refused to acknowledge BECTU – now a sector of the larger union, Prospect. Instead, Picturehouse recognise the Staff Forum, a  pseudo-union set up and funded by Picturehouse themselves. Seeing no other option, workers have united with the Ritzy in taking industrial action.

In February 2017, after many months of campaigning and over 20 strike days, BECTU officially called for a boycott of all Picturehouse and Cineworld Cinemas until they agree to meaningfully discuss –

  • A real Living Wage
  • BECTU recognition (Hackney, Central, Crouch End, Brighton)
  • Company sick pay for all staff from day one of employment
  • Company maternity/paternity/adoption pay
  • Fair pay rises for supervisors, managers, chefs, sound technicians and projectionists.

This struggle takes place in the  UK context of rampant growth in inequality, attributable in part to the effective crushing and stigmatisation of trades unionism during the neoliberal era.  Cinema ownership as a source of unearned wealth, and cinema work as desperate poverty have followed the trend analysed by Thomas Piketty in ‘Capital in the 21st Century’, the ill-health effects of which have been explored in Wilkinson and Pickett’s ‘The Spirit Level’. 

Cineworld Group plc is the second largest cinema operator in Europe with 2,217 screens – 800 of which are in the UK. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and the FTSE 250 Index, but the Greidinger family hold a controlling bloc as the largest shareholders.  The Guardian reported in 2014 that Cineworld employed 80% of its 4,300 staff on zero hour contracts. That same year Cineworld completed the takeover of Cinema City International N.V., in which the Greidingers already owned a controlling stake.  Just this month, Cineworld bought the US cinema chain Regal for $3.6 (£2.7) billion dollars, which will create the world’s second largest cinema group.

Cineworld made £82million profit in 2016 on a revenue of £797.8 million.  Chief executive Mooky Greidinger was paid over £2.5 million. Picturehouse pitch themselves as an ethical business hosting independent films and selling Fairtrade goods, but their treatment of their workforce exposes this as mere marketing to the social conscience of a particular kind of audience.  An effective social conscience always has to be well-informed. Do not be fooled, and until fair employment practices are set up at Picturehouse and indeed more widely across Cineworld cinemas, support the boycott, and seek out a cinema to go to where staff are respected.

This is relatively easy if you live or work in Hackney, or somewhere near – go to the Dalston Rio, where genuine efforts are made to work with staff to improve their pay and conditions, though this is no easy task in the present climate,  as the cinema also has to survive economically.  Elsewhere, the claim that a cinema is “independent” is clearly not sufficient, for example the Everyman chain, which includes the Screen on the Green, was reported by The Guardian in 2013 to have the entire non-management staff employed on zero-hour contracts, earning just above the minimum wage.  The company has since re-structured its pay system, and is currently in the early stages of the process of introducing 10 hour minimum contracts.  When you go to a cinema, ask to speak to the manager about their employment practices and union recognition, and make your views known if you don’t want to be a party to inflicted poverty: then go to the cinema that is practical to get to, that gives the best answers.

The Boycotter’s True Love Christmas

IMG_9302.jpgOn the first day of Christmas my love did not buy me, an Amazon delivery;

On the second day of Christmas my love did not buy me…… a Samsung smart phone:

On the third day of Christmas my love did not buy me …..…trainers from Sports Direct:

On the fourth day of Christmas my love not buy me…..….a computer from HP:

On the fifth day of Christmas my love did not buy me……… Apple i-pad:

On the sixth day of Christmas my love did not buy me..……a shirt from Primark:

On the seventh day of Christmas my love did not buy me … any cosmetics from Boots UK:

On the eighth day of Christmas my love did not buy me……… clothes from H&M:

On the ninth day of Christmas my love did not buy me….     jumpers from Uniqlo:

On the tenth day of Christmas my love did not buy me…..  anything from Argos:

On the eleventh day of Christmas my love did not buy me…. any cosmetics by L’Oreal:

On the twelfth day of Christmas my love did not buy me……. a Dyson vacuum cleaner.

Here’s Why….


Amazon UK is a world leader in tax avoidance – in 2016 it paid £7.4 million in tax on sales of £1.5 billion.  Amazon has resisted unionisation both in the USA and in the UK,  to enable it to continue to abuse workers, deploying GPS tagging, harsh and exhausting working conditions, and zero-hour contracts.  Amazon van delivery drivers have to do 200 deliveries a day, and after deductions (such as van hire and insurance) drivers can be paid less than half the UK minimum wage.  Please note Amazon now includes the anti-union Whole Foods Markets, so don’t go there for your xmas treats….


Samsung is a family-controlled conglomerate or chaebol, a complex web of circular investments involving many companies, the very structure of which is inherently corrupt, to maintain family control despite predominantly institutional ownership. Samsung’s billionaire chief, Lee Jae-Yong, was heavily involved in the embezzlement scandal that toppled South Korean President Park Geun-hye last year.  Lee gave bribes worth $36 million to Park and her confidante to help win government support for a smooth leadership transfer from Lee’s ailing father to Lee, hid assets overseas, concealed proceeds from criminal activities and committed perjury.

Samsung has a reputation for modern technology, but this conceals 19th century working conditions for the estimated 1,500,000 workers in its web of subcontractors and subsidiaries that blankets South-east Asia.  Samsung’s “no-union” policy affects the entire Asian electronics industry. In leaked material, management decrees specific “countermeasures” to be used to “dominate employees,”  aiming to “isolate employees”, “punish leaders” and “induce internal conflicts.” Samsung taps workers’ phones, follows them, and approaches their families with threats.  With a precariously-employed workforce, inhumane conditions are rife. According to China Labor Watch, employees at Samsung factories, some under-aged, suffer through 100 hours of forced overtime per month, unpaid work, standing for 11 to 12 hours, verbal and physical abuse, severe age and gender discrimination, and lack of worker safety.

Sports Direct:

Sports Direct is the largest sporting retailer in the United Kingdom, with around 465 stores.  At its Shirebrook headquarters it has 200 permanent employees, and over 3,000 agency workers who are mainly east Europeans working at just above the minimum wage, facilitated by EU rules.  These agency workers are effectively on zero-hour contracts for most of the year – they have to be available for work even when none is offered and so cannot take other jobs.  If they raise any grievance or go off sick, they will be laid off –  there is neither security nor justice, with management having unreasonable powers to discipline them or dismiss them at will.  Workers being forced to come to work whatever their health has led to multiple ambulance call outs for emergencies, including to a woman giving birth in the toilets – all this insecurity despite the fact that the flow of work is more or less predictable.  Because workers had to wait in a queue to be searched before they could leave, many actually were paid below the minimum wage.  They are prey to recurrent bullying including sexual harassment. Workers without a bank account were offered a pre-paid debit card onto which their wage was paid, but they were charged extortionately and some of these profits were paid back to the employing agency, and many were charged for insurance products that they neither needed nor understood.  Lateness of clocking in by just one minute resulted in a deduction of 15 minutes’ pay.  After a Parliamentary committee issued a damning report,  and after the owner had eventually agreed to be interviewed by them and had had to admit to some of the abuses, conditions may have marginally improved, but the basic employment model is of course unchanged, and serving as a model for future employment in the UK generally.



HP provides and manages contracts worth millions with Israeli authorities involving systems of surveillance and identification that are directly used in the domination of Palestinians.  One subsidiary EDS Israel is the main contractor of the Basel system of automated access control, that uses magnetic cards and biometric information at checkpoints in the Occupied Territories, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004.  HP are also involved in the ID card system which reinforces Israel’s ethnically tiered citizenship structure widely equated with apartheid, as well as supplying equipment used in the Israeli navy blockade of Gaza.  HP uses a technology service provider that is based in an illegal West Bank settlement.


Unfortunately, you can’t get away from the crimes of Samsung by buying an Apple product because some components come from Samsung and because the fierce anti-union and anti-workers’ rights methods used by Samsung have affected the whole South-East Asia electronics industry, promoting a culture of exploiting unpaid internships, forced and unpaid overtime, child labour, and long working hours.

For example at one Apple supplier, Pegatron, systems of exploitation included in 2013 under-age labour, contract violations, insufficient wages, abuse by management, poor working conditions and excessive working hours, with an average working week of 67 hours in three factories under investigation by Chinese Labour Watch.

In 2014 they reported that another company called Catcher, employing 20,000 people, making iPhone and iPad parts was found to have a number of serious health and safety, environmental, and human rights violations: these included – Significant amounts of combustible aluminium-magnesium alloy shreddings on the floor and dust particles in the air, inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for handling toxic materials, such as metal cutting fluids, locked safety exits, a lack of safety training or fire drills for workers, dumping of industrial fluids and waste into groundwater and nearby rivers, as well as excessive hours for all workers.


Primark’s parent company is Associated British Foods, a heavy user of tax havens, using subsidiary companies in Guernsey, Jersey, Hong Kong, and Luxembourg.

Boots UK:

Boots is a part of Alliance Boots, itself half of the conglomerate Walgreen Boots Alliance Inc, mired in controversy over use of conflict minerals and palm oil from unsustainable sources.  MedAct has calculated that Boots avoided £1.21 billion in tax between 2007 and 2016, enough to fund a lot of health care; meanwhile it is still fighting to keep its pharmacists from joining a proper Union, and subjecting them to undue pressure to meet targets and low pay.


H&M opened its second Israel store in a village in Jerusalem that was brutally ethnically cleansed in the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of 1946.  This year the Guardian reported that children as young as 14 in Myanmar factories were being employed to make clothes for H&M at below-minimum wages, the lowest wage just 13p an hour.


According to War on Want, Uniqlo “leaves a trail of serious labour violations wherever they go” – one recent example the closure of the PT Jaba Garmindo factory in Indonesia, leaving 4000 workers unemployed, and with four month unpaid wages.


Argos is now owned by Sainsburys,  which itself is owned 25% by Qatar Holding LLC, which needs no further explication when it comes to migrant labour abuse that amounts to slavery.  Sainsbury have no cotton sourcing policy, which means further acquiescence in child labour and slavery, and have a low ethical rating on the Ethical Consumer site for toxics in clothes and cosmetics.  One of the Sainsbury dynasty gave a huge donation to the Tory party in the run-up to the last election, a crime against the NHS, against the sick and disabled across the country, and against all of us who want a society based on solidarity, not domination.


This huge French cosmetics company was founded by a Nazi sympathiser who funded and actively participated in a group responsible for numerous racist atrocities, including the firebombing of six synagogues.  His daughter Liliane Bettencourt died this year, still owning one third of the company, with Nestle owning another large chunk; she was the richest woman in the world, notorious for tax avoidance and for leaving envelopes full of cash for Nicholas Sarkozy and other right-wing politicians to avoid limits on election spending.  L’Oreal was fined in 2016 for price-fixing.


Hopefully you wouldn’t be thinking of buying any of your loved ones a household appliance for xmas anyway, but if you do, try to avoid further enriching the hypocritical xenophobic Brexiteer, James Dyson.  Dyson was one of the most prominent UK business leaders to publicly support Brexit before the referendum, saying he would be voting to leave the European Union to avoid being “dominated and bullied by the Germans”. and since then saying that Britain leaving the EU Single Market would “liberate” the economy and allow Britain to strike its own trade deals around the world,  recently commenting on the ongoing negotiations, “we should just walk away and they will come to us”.   All this despite his having campaigned in 1998 for Britain to join the eurozone… and despite his having transferred most of his production workforce to Malaysia in 2002, helping the decline of UK manufacturing.

Why Demonstrate?

IMG_3935The Communard has long since given up enthusiastically turning on the news when they get home from another demonstration. The point of going on a demonstration cannot be that it should be noted in the mainstream media; nor can it be that it should necessarily have any effect on the powers-that-be, even the minor irritant effect of being noticed. Why go at all? …especially why go to stand in front of the long, tall monumentally unresponsive facade of the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London on a bitterly cold evening to protest against Trump’s announcement that the US would recognise Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel?

The answer lay in the experience itself. It was heartening to see a large crowd, which spilled out awkwardly beyond the space where the police tried to corral it, notable for its diversity – children shouting for Palestine, people shouting ‘Allah Akbar’, mothers and fathers, young women with and without headscarves, young men with and without keffiyehs, sellers of Socialist Worker and Counterfire…but not much other overt evidence of the wider labour movement. The sense of fringe elements of the labour movement standing in for its absent core mirrored the international political isolation of the Palestinians. A demonstration is street theatre, in which you perform a small part as well as making up the audience. Here, standing bottled in for a freezing 90 minutes between the closed-off gardens of Grosvenor Square and the metal fence erected to keep the crowd away from the embassy, a few metres from the much-higher iron fence surrounding the building itself, we all briefly re-enacted the plight of the Palestinians in the occupied Territories under military domination. The police surrounding us reprised the role of the Israeli Defence Force, keeping the demonstrators packed in to the tight space and filming us with a camera on a pole. We could do nothing but shout and chant, and even this it was impossible to co-ordinate, so stretched and squashed and ragged was the space. On the other side of the massive railings, motionless behind a bullet-proof shield, his hand clutching his automatic weapon bare so as to able to use the trigger, despite the cold, a single dark-clad soldier stood in for the military might of the Colonial power. Whether or not his fingers were too cold, he could not have pulled that trigger without killing nearly as many police officers as protestors – he was performing a purely symbolic menace. Towering over the massive concrete and glass set behind him, the huge metal bald eagle in the centre echoed his sinister pose, a reminder of the murderous drones hovering over the oppressed across the globe.

So why demonstrate? The answer has to recognise that demonstrating is a performance of solidarity, so that a taste of futility and powerlessness is inherent to it in times like ours. You explore and develop your own solidarity with the victims of domination whose cause you are upholding; this helps in terms of experiencing your identification with the oppressed, even if there is only a vague hope or no hope that those victims will get to appreciate your gesture, let alone the perpetrators realising or caring. You go to help to build a collective historical narrative of solidarity, even if at first it is only shared within small networks. You drag yourself out of complicit passivity and become a participant, however small, in the resistance.


To find out about upcoming actions, join the mailing list of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign here: