Parliament’s vote for a third runway at Heathrow airport shows how far the Labour party is from putting together economic policies combining social justice and action to curb global warming.
More than 115 Labour MPs – well over half the parliamentary party – voted for Heathrow expansion on Monday, ignoring a warning in the debate by the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, that it posed “a threat to the planet”.
McDonnell, a long-standing opponent of Heathrow expansion, said that, if a legal challenge by local councils and Greenpeace failed, an “iconic, totemic” battle would be unleashed to stop the project. The Vote No Heathrow group is already gearing up for such a battle.
Before the vote, Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union – a big financial donor to Labour and supporter of Jeremy Corbyn in internal political battles – wrote to MPs urging them to support Heathrow expansion.
It is the false choice that McCluskey hinted at in his letter – that if the workers’ movement participates in action against global warming, it will be sacrificing well-paid, unionised jobs – that needs to be nailed. It is disarming. And it is deceitful.
The letter, signed by McCluskey and Back Heathrow representative Parmjit Dhanda, said that supporting the third runway would “make a historic and positive difference to the lives of Unite members, their sons and daughters, and generations to come”. MPs could “ensure our country remains a world leader in aviation and aerospace, industries containing high-quality, unionised jobs.”
These claims are obviously dodgy.
What sort of lives are the children and grandchildren of Heathrow workers, and “generations to come”, going to have, if global warming continues unchecked? They will grow up in an increasingly violent
and unstable world, in which political and economic elites are forced all the more desperately to push most people into poverty.
The rich will try to protect themselves from rising sea levels, stormier weather and the consequences of agriculture failure, at the expense of the majority.
Is this really the best future the trade unions can aspire to? Is there no other way of achieving “high-quality, unionised jobs”? Of course there are other ways. Organised labour does not have to mortgage the future of its own descendants, and others’, for these gains. An economy structured for people’s needs, and not for profit – surely the most basic aim of the workers’ movement – would open up much wider vistas of possibility, for people to live better.
The choice for the labour movement is not between good jobs and action on climate change. It is between a narrow perspective, tied to the wealthy elites that will benefit from airport expansion, and a wider vision that gives hope for future generations – the sort of vision that has been at the labour movement’s heart since it began.
These issues are addressed in a thoughtful way in a submission to Labour’s policy consultation by the Red Green Study Group, a small group of socialists who have been thinking about these issues for a long time. I’ve blogged about that here.
If anyone in the Labour party – or anywhere else – really means to address the crisis between human society and nature, together with social injustice, then they need an integrated approach. You can not start a deep-going shift in the relationship between people and their natural surroundings – as well as between people – by tinkering with problems at the edges. GL, 28 June 2018.
■ “Heathrow: step up the campaign” – Alan Thornett, with links to other information at the end