Safe Landing at “The Big One” Climate Protests in London

30 Apr, 2023

Safe Landing at “The Big One” Climate Protests

Aviation workers from Safe Landing attended the protests and events organised by Extinction Rebellion (XR) and other climate groups last weekend in London.

At “The Big One”, we worked with XR Trade Unionists to hold discussions about workers’ and unions’ role in the fight against climate change. We took part in a summit discussing the campaign against dangerous aviation expansion. We raised solidarity with the upcoming strikes for a pay rise by security workers at Heathrow airport. And we organised an aviation workers’ presence on the “Stop Airport Expansion” march and the Nature/Biodiversity march. Over the four days, we communicated a pro-climate, pro-union aviation workers’ voice to thousands, and strengthened our profile and connections.


Campaigning against aviation expansion

Round-table of aviation campaigners

Round-table of aviation campaigners

On Friday morning, we contributed to a round-table discussion of community groups and environmental campaigns from around the UK who are fighting airport expansion in their regions. The focus of the conversation was plans for a national campaign to target the weak UK planning policy that permits unconstrained airport and air traffic expansion. We would support such a campaign from a worker/jobs perspective. To some this may sound contradictory, but we see a massive risk to the sector of airport over-capacity once credible climate plans are adopted.  If this happens, then workers will be the first to lose out. Much better a (relatively) early and well-planned transition, avoiding dangerous expansion, and better yet one shaped by organised aviation workers.

In the afternoon larger numbers of us joined the brilliant march against aviation expansion, the biggest such protest to yet take place in the UK, alongside thousands of others. We marched as a group with our Safe Landing flags – the main one saying “Aviation Workers for a Sustainable Future” – and posters. Some of us wore pilot’s uniform and others Safe Landing t-shirts, giving out copies of our new leaflet introducing the organisation. We got a good response from marchers and had many interesting conversations.

Safe Landing members at The Big One

Safe Landing members Dan and Sian hand-out flyers and speak at “The Big One”

That morning XR activists had held “People’s Pickets” outside government departments. In the afternoon the aviation march massively swelled the picket outside the Department of Transport, and an anti-aviation expansion rally was held, at which several Safe Landing members spoke. That included both current aviation workers and former ones, including pilots who discussed what had driven them to give up a career they loved. Our speakers talked about the importance of current aviation workers organising to transform the industry while linking up with unions and climate activists.


Heathrow strike solidarity

By “aviation” workers, we in Safe Landing mean anyone working in the industry – pilots and cabin crew, air traffic control staff, engineers, factory workers and the vast numbers of airport workers of all sorts. And we support attempts by all these aviation workers to get organised and fight for better pay, terms and conditions. Both because we want decent jobs for all workers and because we believe that is a condition that will strengthen the possibility of organising for sustainability too.

Safe Landing members demonstrate solidarity with striking Heathrow security workers

Solidarity to striking Heathrow security workers

At the aviation march on Friday we demonstrated solidarity with the ongoing strike by security workers at Heathrow airport in West London (members of Unite the Union) for a decent pay rise – taking a photo of our members with Safe Landing posters supporting the strike. We raised the strike at other points during ‘The Big One’ too.

We’ll hopefully be joining the Heathrow picket lines to support the strike next week (more information and strike dates here). If you’d like to come along, get in touch.


Trade Union Hub, speakers and workshop

During the course of ‘The Big One’, we worked with other trade unionists and workers’ groups to organise discussions and activity seeking to strengthen and develop links between the climate movement and the workers’ movement.

On Thursday we spoke and led a discussion at an official XR workshop on “Why Climate Activists should work with Trade Unionists”. On Saturday, we helped organise and spoke about aviation workers’ issues and our perspective at the lively and informative “Trade Union Hub” organised by XR Trade Unionists and the Campaign Against Climate Change’s Trade Union Group.

March for Nature

The Trade Union Hub took place before the gigantic march for Nature and Biodiversity that was the high point of ‘The Big One’, with tens of thousands of people marching through Central London to demand action to protect nature.

Safe Landing Flag at Nature March

Safe Landing Flag at the Biodiversity March: “Protect Nature – No to Biofuels – No to Carbon Offsets”

With other trade unionists we joined the march, distributing our leaflet and another from XR Trade Unionists, and took part in many useful conversations. In addition to our main Safe Landing flag we flew one saying “Protect Nature – No to Biofuels – No to Carbon Offsets”, to link the themes of the protest to our criticism of purely technological “solutions” to aviation emissions. These false solutions seek to avoid questions about expansion, about the size of the industry and about how it is organised. Such solutions also present a huge social and ecological risk due to the vast amounts of land-use change required to plant trees to “offset” aviation emissions, or produce biomass to be turned into aviation biofuels. These can counter-productively lead to humanitarian issues with people being forced from their land and deforestation to make way for agro-forestry or the production of agro-fuels.

Safe Landing members also took part in other events during the rest of ‘The Big One’, running through until Monday. The whole event was a great chance to get our message out, develop our thinking in conversation and debate, meet new people and strengthen our connections – as well as supporting these crucial protests.

We hope to help organise a much bigger organised workers/trade union presence on future actions. More soon. We’ll be very active in the weeks and months ahead. Please get in touch to feed back, tell us your ideas and get involved! Join our movement by signing-up to our mailing list on our website homepage:

Flight Crew at The Big One

The ‘Flight Crew’ provide a visual spectacle during “Stop Airport Expansion” climate protests beneath Big Ben at “The Big One” in London

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