Heathrow Pause, an independent splinter from — and loudly distanced by — Extinction Rebellion, is planning an attempted shut-down of Heathrow airport using toy drones on 13 September.
They demand “that the Government places an immediate moratorium upon all aviation expansion”, as well as chiming in with XR’s three general demands.
Aeroplanes are extremely polluting, and every serious environmentalist supports a moratorium on aviation expansion and opposes Heathrow’s third runway.
We call for a rapid expansion of affordable, efficient and high-speed electrically-powered trains to substitute this.
This will be won through building a mass movement, through winning the labour movement — in particular in Unite, GMB and Balpa, who represent aviation workers; and in other transport unions; and the Labour Party — to fight for such politics. Unite and Labour both currently support construction of Heathrow’s third runway.
On Monday 2 September, Ryanair members of the British Airline Pilots’ Association, Balpa, began a three-day strike, following a two-day strike in August, over maternity pay, pensions, and other issues. Environmental activists should support these and any future strikes — particularly in Stansted, the hub of Ryanair’s UK activity — and try to bring an environmental angle to the table.
That this has not happened is a symptom of the political and organisational weakness of the environmental and labour movements. Bold actions by a small number of individuals cannot short-cut the necessary work, but “Heathrow Pause” epitomises the shortcut approach.
Hopefully, the action will bring prominence to campaigns against airport expansion. The activists will hand themselves in to the police and “know that we face significant prison sentences for our actions.” The action is, I believe, unlikely to, in itself, cause a widespread change in opinion.
Bold, courageous and sometimes risky actions climate actions are necessary, and should be generally supported for pushing the horizons of the climate movement, even given this or that limitation. Extinction Rebellion’s previous actions are a cause for celebration, for this reason.
But activism with a halfway decent strategy, pursued over some years, will have significantly bigger impact than this one-off stunt followed by years in prison.
The labour movement must gear up to fight for any — likely severe — sentencing to be quashed, without withholding necessary criticisms.