Fun and Games at Manchester Airport

On the 24th of May, along with 5 other people, I was arrested whilst air-side at Manchester Airport after chaining myself around the wheel of an aeroplane. 10 other activists were arrested that same day for blockading the road into the Airport’s “World Freight Centre”. I’ve been charged with “conspiracy to cause criminal damage”, and am currently on bail until late August. For legal reasons, I can’t discuss the hows of the action, but I can discuss the whys.

The aviation industry is one of the few industries which has expanded under the global recession and is a significant contributor to the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. A 2005 conservative study attributed 6.3% of British CO2 emissions to aviation, with more recent studies concluding that 17% of the UK’s “climate change effect” is caused by aviation. With the greenhouse effect, there are lots of altitude-sensitive effects to releasing emissions, which actually increases the negative effect on the environment of emissions from aviation due to those emissions being at a high altitude.

locked on around the wheel of a plane

The government and some less progressive NGO’s encourage us to focus our attention on our individual greenhouse gas emissions, whilst ignoring the ever-expanding environmental impact of industry. Whilst cutting down on our individual carbon emissions is all very well, an individuals personal use of the aviation industry pales into nothingness when compared to that of the World Freight Centre at Manchester Airport which handles 170000 tonnes of freight a year, and the business giants that use such services. Climate change is a huge problem, but it is only a symptom of a greater disease – that of capitalism, the economic system that seeks infinite growth on a planet of finite resources.

Our action was one in a series of actions by the environmental movement targeting airports due for expansion. In 2007, the Camp for Climate Action targeted Heathrow Airport, blockading the headquarters of the British Airport Authority, whilst Plane Stupid activists boarded a barge transporting an Airbus A380 wing. In 2008, 57 Plane Stupid activists occupied a runway at Stanstead Airport, shutting it down and causing 56 RyanAir flights to be cancelled. In 2009, the Climate9 occupied the taxiway and terminal roof at Aberdeen Airport. They wore golfing clothes to highlight the millionaire Donald Trump’s support of  expansion in order to bring more business to his nearby golf course. The group have since launched a public campaign and have been harassed by the police and private detectives. Along with the hard work of local campaigns, these direct actions have been instrumental in stopping airport expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stanstead. Whilst its important that our movement celebrates its success’, we must not rest on our laurels and let airport expansion through the back door at regional airports such as Manchester, East Midlands, or Aberdeen where there is less media interest.

(I'm on the right)

Its not just environmental problems that airport expansion at Manchester would cause. Airport expansionists argue that the plans to make Manchester the “Heathrow of the North” would support the local economy by bringing money into the area and providing more employment in the area. However, in his recent report, the economist and former advisor to the Treasury, Brendon Sewill calculates that Manchester Airport currently represents a total deficit of £2.2 billion to the local area, set to rise on airport expansion. Indeed, the construction of the Terminal 2 in the 1990’s promised to create 50000 jobs, but fell short; creating fewer temporary jobs that in no way helped create the sustainable, meaningful local economy it promised to do.

Our action coincided with the scheduled 5-day BA cabin crew strikes. Willie Walsh and British Airways turned to the courts to ban the action, a threat to everyone’s right to strike, which was later overturned by an appeal on behalf of the BASSA, the cabin crew union. The strikes arose out of a dispute over pay and conditions. BA has in turn harassed more prominent members of BASSA, and removed “travel perks” (considered essential by most workers) from those engaged in previous industrial action. At the time of our action, 5 BASSA branch officials had been fired by BA during the current dispute, and over 50 workers currently face disciplinaries relating to the strike, mostly on ridiculous issues such as participating in discussions on union forums or receiving and forwarding emails from private accounts. It is important to show solidarity with airport workers, especially those involved in the industrial disputes, whist arguing for a just transition to stave off global climate change. The changes needed to prevent climate change should not be used as an excuse to restrict workers rights and extract more profit.

World Frieght Centre blockade

The airport is by the Manchester Airport Group, which Manchester City Council has a 55% stake, and the other 45% is made up by 9 other local authorities. Manchester City Council plan to reduce Manchester’s carbon emissions by 41% by 2020, but refuse to take into account the airports emissions. With the council being complicit in the airports destructive behaviour, it seems that there is little that Mancunians can do within the “legitimate” channels of local democracy. Whilst the residents of Hasty Lane face loosing their homes, and the ancient woodland surrounding the airport facing the chop with the proposed plans of expansion, the council refuses to listen to the residents concerns in any meaningful way. With the councils lack of caring, and the urgency of the need to prevent climate change, concerned citizens have no choice to take direct and illegal actions to protect workers rights and the future of out planet.

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