New Labour’s claims to have any sort of green environmental policy are in tatters after it gave the go-ahead for the expansion of Heathrow airport last week.
The expansion would involve the building of a third runway and a sixth terminal.
Aviation is the fastest growing source of carbon emissions. Heathrow expansion would see an extra ten million tonnes of carbon pumped into the atmosphere every single year – with a disastrous effect on the environment.
Gordon Brown and the aviation bosses have seized on an argument that they hope will convince ordinary people to support expansion – that it will create jobs.
This is having a resonance among some union leaders. Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, backs expansion and claims it would “create and sustain around 150,000 jobs”.
It’s a shame that he doesn’t show the same concern over other jobs. Thousands of workers are thrown out of work every week, yet the TUC has failed to call any action in response.
Of course Heathrow expansion would create jobs but many other things could create thousands more – and would benefit workers as well.
Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise (Hacan) is a campaigning group that highlights the impact of aviation on ordinary people.
John Stewart, the chair of Hacan, spoke to Socialist Worker.
“The industry has conducted a very clever marketing campaign by simply repeating the mantra that jobs will be lost and business will relocate if the expansion doesn’t go ahead,” he said.
“But they’ve come up with no independent evidence. Until they do, it remains an assertion.”
Green investment, such as developing a high-speed rail network, expanding public transport and developing renewable energy supplies would create hundreds of thousands of long-term jobs.
“If you invest in anything you’ll create jobs,” says John. “It is not an argument for expanding Heathrow.”
John compiled a report for the RMT transport union that looks at how a high-speed rail network could be developed instead of airport expansion.
“Serious investment in high speed rail is a great alternative,” he says. “Not only would jobs be created but the benefits would be spread right across Britain.”
John points out that many workers are opposed to Heathrow expansion and many unions are officially against it.
“Last autumn six unions – including Unison, the RMT, and the PCS – took out an advert against Heathrow expansion and promoted rail expansion instead.
“It’s not as if workers are not interested in this – they are as concerned about the future of the planet as anyone else.”
Environmentalists in the trade unions argue for a “Just Transition” – that the government should pursue solutions to climate change that are not detrimental to workers.
“Just Transition is based on developing sustainable industry,” says John. “Aviation can’t expand indefinitely – it is inevitably a declining industry.
“If the unions were looking forward they would recognise this and demand investment in sustainable industries. This would mean that we don’t have another disaster like when Margaret Thatcher shut down the mines and the miners were left with nothing.
“If something similar happens again some of the union leaders would be almost as much at fault as business.”
John added, “I also think this idea about having greener planes is pure fantasy.
“Technological advances mean that planes are emitting around 1 percent less carbon a year.
“But because of the huge increase in flights at Heathrow this will make no difference,” he said.
Ed Miliband has said that he will limit the number of flights that will use the third runway.
But not surprisingly many find the idea that New Labour would stand up to big business laughable.
“There’s the question of whether this would make any sense for BAA financially,” John added. “In order to make a return on the runway – which could cost anything between £7 and £13 billion – they would need to fill it, not just half fill it.”
Backing Heathrow expansion is just another example of New Labour’s unquestioning devotion to big business, regardless of the impact on ordinary people.
It’s estimated that Heathrow expansion would destroy up to 3,000 homes and make thousands more uninhabitable due to noise and air pollution.
Questions have also been raised about the links between the Labour Party, BAA and British Airways. Joe Irvin, a former head of corporate affairs at BAA, is now a key adviser to Gordon Brown.
“I think we have to avoid putting faith in the public inquiry and planning process,” says John. “Rather than responding to the establishment agenda we have to set the agenda.
“I think there are a number of things that need to happen in parallel. We need to continue working through the parliamentary process with sympathetic MPs.
“We should look at legal challenges, which can highlight the issue in the media and cause delays. We need to keep the campaign high profile in the media.
“But none of these things will work if we don’t have a growing and vibrant grassroots coalition that involves workers.”
To read the RMT report on high-speed rail, Who Says There is no Alternative? go to » www.hacan.org.uk
The Campaign Against Climate Change will hold its second Trade Union conference on Saturday 7 March in central London. Go to » cacctu.wordpress.com