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Unions say no to third runway


Despite the government announcement on behalf of big capitalist enterprises in favour of a third runway at Heathrow, a number of unions are to campaign for a sustainable high-speed rail alternative to serve the people of Britain. Integrated into a nationwide network, this would also help to bring together the people of England, Scotland and Wales.

Trade union support for a third runway is neither unanimous nor unequivocal. Calling for a new transport strategy, the rail unions RMT, ASLEF and the public service union PCS, for example, put the alternative case for investment in an integrated, publicly owned, high-speed network with a hub serving Heathrow.

This would reduce noise and pollution by cutting the necessity for thousands of short-haul flights (such as London to Edinburgh). It would create tens of thousands of jobs, including at the airport. It would free up existing space for longer-haul and intercontinental flights – people would not be forced to move from their homes.

The third rail union, TSSA, has also voiced its preference for rail over air travel. Only Unite, representing cabin crews and baggage-handlers, has shown more concern for European capitalist competition and as usual acted as cheerleader for the Government.

The Campaign for Better Transport last year pointed out that well over a third of flights from Heathrow are short-haul, that more than 20 per cent serve destinations already served by a viable rail alternative, and that 20 per cent more are to places where rail is the potential alternative. It also showed that where high-speed rail links have been opened there has been a significant switch from air to rail. Spain has seen a 20 per cent drop in passengers on domestic flights since its new high-speed rail network was opened.

There is no economic case for airport expansion, and the human cost is unacceptable, too. Over 700 people stand to lose their homes, children their schools, and whole communities are to be destroyed. Noise levels over central London disrupt concentration, communication, and healthy sleep on a daily basis, while for those living to the west the levels are already intolerable. The real possibility of an air disaster over this densely populated city was brought home recently by the bird strike over Manhattan. But London has no equivalent of the long straight Hudson river on which to ditch a plane.

With a new mood in Britain to rebuild industry along modern, clean, safe and efficient lines, the government should now invest public money directly in an electrified high-speed national rail system, not in the black hole of the global banking credit system or the insatiable pockets of profiteering companies. Backed up by action, the will of Londoners and the rail unions can yet prevail. The sooner Brown’s Heathrow “announcement” is kicked into the long grass the better.