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The Socialist 3 June 2008 |
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Heathrow protest: Demonstrating against a third airport runway
Heathrow runway expansion protests, photo Marc Vallée
Over 3,000 people marched from Hatton Cross to Sipson to demonstrate their opposition to a third runway at Heathrow airport. Sipson itself is due to be destroyed if the plans go ahead. At Sipson the protesters positioned themselves to spell out a giant NO that could be seen from the air.
Considering the amount of publicty the campaign had generated in the run up to the event, the turnout may have been a disappointment to the organisers. It was certainly well down on the number that attended the climate change camp outside Heathrow in August last year.
This could be a result of the tactics of the organisers, which seems to focus on mobilising the strong opposition of the local community in Sipson and putting pressure on Labour and Conservative politicians to oppose the construction of a third runway.
Many of the people I spoke to on the protest seemed quite pessimistic about mobilising mass opposition in London, on the basis that they considered most Londoners to be more interested in cheap flights than the environmental effects of an expanded airport.
The Conservative Party was a visible presence on the demonstration. Deputy mayor Richard Barnes as well as Tory council leaders addressed the rally, voicing their opposition.
However Tory activists were evasive when I inquired if they would ask their MPs to put down motions in parliament opposing the third runway.
This all poses the question of where the campaign will be taken next. Wait for a Tory victory in a general election?
Not many non-Tory activists seemed keen on this idea. In any case, construction will have begun by 2009 which makes present Tory opposition to this expansion scheme a lot easier.
Some activists favoured a 'direct action' approach to disrupt the construction of the runway. However the record of direct action in putting a permanent stop to big construction projects is not encouraging.
This demonstration illustrates the crying need for a political alternative that can cut across the opportunism of the Conservatives and involve working people in discussion (and mass mobilisations when necessary) on how environmental destruction can be prevented, while keeping and maybe expanding opportunities for cheap travel, and preserving transport workers' jobs in west London.