Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2172

Why should only the rich be allowed to fly?

John Stewart’s article on the “greenwashing” of the aviation industry could not have been more timely (» Airline bosses emit more untruths, 3 October). Just a week after his speech at the United Nations, British Airways boss Willie Walsh was launching a new exclusive service – carrying 32 corporate customers from London City Airport across the Atlantic to New York. I suppose these bankers have to spend their bonuses on something!

I was pleased to see John stressing the importance of creating “green jobs” and a “just transition” to a greener economy. Against a background of callous job cuts across the sector, environmental campaigners will receive short shrift from aviation workers unless they are able to deliver the promise of well-organised jobs elsewhere.

But questions still remain. I can accept the need to limit air travel, but I think a world without planes would be a poorer, narrower one. Without Heathrow, London would be half as cosmopolitan as it is now. And who should get the chance to fly? Rationing by price – a consequence of raising taxes on aviation – would restrict flying still further to a privileged few. Is that really what we should be fighting for?

Aviation worker, London

It is right to take on the aviation industry’s arguments that we need to support more flying.

The recent growth of the airlines industry, which makes aviation the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, isn’t because more working people are able to fly off on holiday.

Even polls commissioned by the aviation industry have found that 75 percent of people using budget airlines are well off, and the average salary of passengers at Heathrow is £83,000 a year.

The airlines clearly understand that the growth in flying they want will come from the rich, not from ordinary people. Campaigners against aviation expansion know that turning flying back into a privilege of the rich would be repugnant – and it would fail to solve the problem.

As John Stewart says, scaling back aviation needs a “just transition” for the workers in aviation to other, sustainable industries, and for passengers to greener, affordable forms of transport. A publicly-owned rail network could take the place of many flights – two thirds of flights from British airports are either domestic or shorthaul.

Workers in Britain have some of the lowest holiday entitlements in Europe – if we could all take longer holidays, travelling by train not plane would be a realistic option.

Aviation expansion is bad for the planet, for people living near airports and under flight paths, and good only for airline companies’ profits. If the campaign against Heathrow expansion succeeds in stopping the third runway, it will be a first step towards a saner transport system for everyone.

Elaine Graham-Leigh, North London

Cheer up, humans are OK

Timmy Harrington doesn’t think the human race is worth saving (» Letters, 19 September). Where do Timmy’s ideas on human nature come from? He’s in good company – many politicians, bankers, industrialists and military leaders seem to have a pretty low view of the rest of humanity too.

You can see this in their propensity to go to war and slaughter abroad, and to swindle the public. They show complete contempt for human rights nationally and internationally, exploit poor countries in order to produce any old junk provided it makes a profit, and introduce increasingly punitive legislation against everyone except the criminals at the top.

Coincidentally, I was sorting my bookshelves and flipped open a book called Marxism, Mysticism and Modern Theory right at the page where there’s a discussion on the individual and society.

The author of this chapter criticises gloomy views of humanity and progress and points out that a couple of centuries ago the philosopher William Godwin declared, “There will be no war, no crimes... no government.

Every man will seek, with ineffable ardour, the good of all.” And Tom Paine’s call for “the brotherhood of man” led to his exile from Britain. Even Thomas Malthus – whose doom-laden views on overpopulation are also discussed in the same issue of Socialist Worker – revised his book On Population and suggested that “the laws of human nature were less inevitable and the principle of population less inexorable”.

Who we are, how we are and how we view the human world and our ability to solve social problems – such as those caused by climate change – depends on how society is organised and who benefits from that organisation.

Don’t fall for the anti-human rhetoric, Timmy. People solve problems and getting active is generally better then getting depressed.

Heather Rutledge, Birmingham

BNP beaten back in South Oxhey election

Labour’s victory over the British National Party (BNP) in the Hayling ward, South Oxhey by-election on 24 September was massive. The last time this seat was fought in May 2008 the Labour candidate was just 14 votes ahead on the BNP. This time the margin was 317.

So what has happened in just over a year? Well the BNP has been rumbled. It is a racist party built on the philosophy of Nazism. Its leaders subscribe to the theory that the world is run by a Jewish conspiracy and the white Aryan race is superior to others – precisely what Hitler believed.

Having knocked on doors daily during the by-election campaign it was obvious that the mood has changed in South Oxhey itself – there is a new pride.

I have no doubt that the South Oxhey Community Choir has helped by bringing people together regardless of their background. This stands in complete contrast to the politics of fear and hate of the BNP.

The Labour candidate was from the estate with a track record of working for the community. The people of Hayling ward can stand tall – they have delivered a blow against bigotry for us all.

Mike Jackson, Chair, Watford Labour Party

Blacklisted for raising safety

In reference to your coverage of blacklists in the oil industry – yes, of course there is a blacklist. I was blacklisted by a drilling company in 1990 because I took them to a tribunal and won the case against them.

I got my wife to phone up the company that I took to the tribunal.

She said she was from a drilling company and, as I had worked for this company for 13 years, could they give her a verbal reference on me.

The company said that I had resigned on a particular date and that I would never work for them again. No further comment.

If you raise any safety issues offshore you will be NRB’d (not required back) and that’s a fact. You only have to ask the guys who have found themselves NRB’d for raising safety issues. I raised loads of such issues with one company and not once did I get to speak to anyone from their safety department.

All they wanted to do was win contracts with the oil companies. They were willing to bypass health and safety issues to do that.

Ian, Fife

A prescription for more cuts

I enjoyed your article on the Labour Party (» Is the Labour Party finished?, 3 October). In reference to the introduction of prescription charges, these were introduced to help meet the costs of the Korean war.

It remained treasury policy even when the cost of collecting it was higher than the charge.

You can see the same logic worked out with the banking crash, where the cost is taken from the workers via attacks on services, benefits and taxation.

Patrick Cooper-Duffy, by email

What are we training for?

I have recently completed an introduction course run by the TUC for new Unison union reps. Being new to politics I am keen to learn all about how unions work and look after their members, and how to be a union rep. But what I wasn’t expecting was being told by the tutor, and I quote, “Above all do not be militant. We do not welcome this kind of behaviour.”

I was gobsmacked. Don’t be militant? I was under the impression that if there was a fight we were to fight with everything we have.

Unison rep, by email

Do you have CND song?

I urgently need a recording of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament song “Don’t You Hear the H-Bomb’s Thunder?” I want to use it at a series of talks I am giving on my new book about youth and politics on Tyneside in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

I can be contacted at or via Socialist Worker.

John Charlton, Newcastle

Tax rich to pay for benefits

I would like to add two points to Louise Harrison’s column on universal benefits (» As the sharks circle it's time to defend universal benefits, 3 October). First, universal benefits are cheaper to administrate than means tested ones, which are very complicated. Second, there is a very effective way of clawing back benefits that the rich don’t need – higher income taxes for the rich. Universal benefits are the most effective way of reaching the poorest people. The fact that the government ignores this begs the question of whether it really cares.

Hilary Allanson, Salford

Small change from Labour

Gordon Brown says that New Labour is the party of change – and he is right.

But sadly the change is little more than a couple of one pence pieces, a piece of string, a broken elastic band and a dirty handkerchief.

The pocket has a hole in it, and when he went cap in hand to see his banker friends all the gold coins fell out. His friends were very good about it and swept them up with scarcely a murmur – that’s what friends are for.

Derek Hanlin, Porth

Unions do back Vestas

I would like to correct an error in your article Where now for the Vestas campaign? (» The Vestas struggle has changed the debate about green jobs, 24 September).

In it you say, “Trade union leaders, with the exception of the RMT, have so far refused to back the Vestas workers’ fight.”

That is not correct. My union, the UCU, was one of the first to get involved in the dispute, and sent a national officer to the Isle of Wight before the occupation even began.

Our general secretary Sally Hunt wrote a letter to the Guardian calling on the government to intervene. We have given national backing to the occupation and demands for nationalisation.

Other unions have also supported the dispute at a national level and continue to campaign on behalf of the Vestas workforce.

Graham Petersen, UCU National Environment Coordinator

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Article information

Tue 6 Oct 2009, 18:30 BST
Issue No. 2172
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