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Heathrow expansion exposes Tory divisions
For an integrated, environmentally sound, socialist transport system
Chis Newby, London Socialist Party
The recent decision by the cabinet to go ahead with building a third runway at Heathrow has enormous implications for workers at Heathrow and for the local communities. What view should socialists take?
The local community and trade unions have not been properly consulted on this at all. There should have been a proper trade union and community-led inquiry over the full implications.
The decision is based on a report commissioned by David Cameron in 2012 and headed up by economist Howard Davies to look at the possibilities for airport expansion in Britain.
The report argued that - as airport capacity is close to the limit - if airports in south east England do not expand, airlines will look to other European airports and the British economy will lose out in tourism and trade. However a Department for Transport (DoT) report says this greatly exaggerates the benefits.
Davies' report states that the third runway would generate £147 billion to the economy over 60 years - the DoT report says £61 billion. And of course, the vast majority of this would go to the pockets of big business. Davies suggests it would create 78,000 new jobs - DoT says nearer 39,000.
The decision has big implications for the Tory party, further exposing the splits in its frontbenches. It has led to the resignation of Zac Goldsmith as Tory MP.
There are clearly big business interests at the centre of this, with the private airport owners and airlines eyeing up the potential extra profits. In 2014 Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd, which owns Heathrow Airport, made profits of £839 million. With up to 50% more flights predicted with a third runway, this could dramatically increase.
But this is contrasted with concerns of Tory MP's looking to keep their seats and seeing the level of local opposition to the plans.
Socialists must stand back from the arguments of the different wings of the capitalist class and look at what is in the best interests of the working class as a whole and the local community around Heathrow.
The area around Heathrow airport already suffers from high levels of air pollution - breaching EU rules. This comes from both air and road traffic around the airport. A 50% increase in flights would have a dramatic effect, even with so-called cleaner flights. Already, 9,500 people in London die every year because of air pollution-related illnesses.
Noise pollution, as well as having a bad effect on people's hearing, can also increase stress and lead to sleep loss - with potential serious health complications like heart disease.
Expansion would also create big upheavals for the local community. There will be at least 750 homes demolished - including the whole of Longford village and parts of Harmondsworth and Sipson.
We understand that workers looking at the promise of new jobs may welcome expansion. But what sort of jobs will these be? Willie Walsh, CEO of IAG (the conglomerate made up of Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia and Vueling), is determined to drive down the wages and conditions of airport workers - as are all other airlines.
Just remember the long battle of the BA cabin crew and the current attempts to attack the jobs and conditions of the BA IT staff. We will continue to support airport workers struggling to maintain jobs and conditions.
We support new jobs coming into the area but why do they have to be dependent on a new runway being built at Heathrow? It's a bit rich for this government to be talking about new jobs and apprenticeships when their policies have seen the loss of 600,000 jobs in local government since 2010.
Why can't we have more building workers being employed to build the tens of thousands of new council homes needed in the area? Why can't we have more workers employed on the buses and tubes and in the tube station ticket offices? Why not employ more staff in overstretched schools and hospitals?
To do all this we need a party in government and on local councils committed to defending and improving public services. The movement around Jeremy Corbyn has shown the hunger for anti-austerity, job-creating policies. But to enact them requires a decisive fight against the pro-capitalist, pro-austerity Blairite wing of the Labour Party.
Are we opposed to airport expansion? Not necessarily in every case, but each case has to be weighed up on its own merits and disadvantages. A third runway at Heathrow doesn't appear to be the best option, which is why we oppose this plan.
There are other options of disused airfields or underused airfields. While Heathrow is working at 98% capacity, some airports around the country are only operating at 40%.
There could be the opportunity to develop these airfields and link them up with big investment into the rail network. Rail, alongside the airports, airlines and buses should be brought back into public ownership. Measures to create cheap and efficient train services could encourage reduced use of cars and planes.
We campaign for a fully integrated, public-owned, democratically-run transport system that is genuinely affordable and where workers are on good wages and conditions. If a Corbyn-led Labour Party were brought to power, it would be an opportunity to fight to make these policies a reality now.
We also support massive investment into research for more environmentally friendly transport of all forms. This could only be fully achieved under a democratic socialist society but we will support all struggles along the way that will genuinely improve transport for both passengers and workers.
In The Socialist 2 November 2016:
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