Heathrow expansion protests

A WEEK of protests against the proposed third runway at Heathrow airport culminated on 19 August in a demonstration along the proposed site and a blockade of Heathrow operator BAA’s headquarters.

Neil Cafferky

The demonstration, spearheaded by local residents in Sipson, whose village faces extinction if the project goes through, set out from the climate change camp that has dominated media headlines, illustrating the loose alliance between climate change protesters and local residents.

Media reports on the camp emphasising the police response were in many ways an understatement.

A huge body of police, many clad in riot gear, blocked the available roads towards BAA, forcing marchers to take to the surrounding fields in a cat and mouse game with the police to get back onto the roads.

Attempts to leave the fields were often met with a blow from a truncheon.

There were several hairy moments where riot police attempted to hem demonstrators in but the heavy armour the police wore cut down their mobility. The only time the situation threatened to turn nasty when I was at the protest was when the police perimeter was broken and protesters headed towards a nearby housing estate.

Two mounted police charged up to the gap in order to force people back. As demonstrators poured through the gap one person wearing a large shield with a human face painted on it ran at the horses, shouting loudly.

This caused one horse to turn tail and flee in the opposite direction, throwing the unfortunate policeman from his saddle. He escaped unscathed to much laughter although riot police were less amused and beat back protesters from the gap. In all about 100 protesters made it to BAA headquarters where they camped for the night.

Despite the organisers’ ingenuity in maintaining an eco-friendly camp, handling a generally hostile media and evading the police, the protests’ actual aims and strategy were less sharp.

The protests highlighted the issue of the third runway and global warming but less clear is what happens once the demonstration ends.

Some protesters argued for pressure on establishment politicians to regulate multinationals to tackle global warming. Others made the link between capitalism and environmental damage and the need to change society but were unclear on how this was to happen beyond escalating semi-spontaneous actions like the one at BAA.

In particular, the organisers’ refusal to meet with the pilots’ union shows that key elements in the battle to end capitalist destruction of the planet, in this case links with the workers in polluting industries, are being overlooked.