Freedom News

The Heathrow 13 are victims of state repression – and a culture of passive resistance

On July 13th last year, environmental activists from Plane Stupid occupied the north runway at Heathrow – chaining themselves to a metal fence and each other to form a blockade. On January 30th all thirteen activists were convicted of aggravated trespass at Willesden Magistrates Court with implications from the judge that they should expect prison. Sentencing has been scheduled for February 24th.

The group was founded to oppose the planned fourth runway at Heathrow and has done various blockades and lock-ons at airports including Southampton and London City. It is focussed on ‘bringing the aviation industry back to earth’ with non-violent direct action – in an anti-aviation movement that, including the ZAD in Notre-Dame-Des-Landes, has increasing power and popularity in both militant and community circles.

From economic sabotage to squat free-shops, the anti-aviation movement is a point of immense conflict with capitalist and state power. In many cases, anti-aviation struggle has shown that community politics does not have to be passive politics: the sites of barricades at the ZAD or Grow Heathrow included locals or small farmers and have solid roots in the communities around them.

The Heathrow 13 convictions are another case of state repression against those who dissent – especially those whose dissent is costly for ruling property owners and politicians. However they also show how costly the tactics of passive resistance have become for those who enact them. At every “direct action workshop” and in every “direct action manual” we are presented with a series of lock-ons or sit-downs that prevent escape, de-arrest and any attempt at physical self-defence against the security services or coppers who will arrive soon after.

Just as much as it places dissenters in dangerous and vulnerable situations, the tactics of passive resistance separate us from the possibilities of combative action. Not only are we in a vulnerable position, we present ourselves as vulnerable – or at best martyrs for a radical cause. This dynamic is not only damaging to the power of dissent, it is dishonest. Our power and security are in mass, agility or anonymity. Passive resistance separates us from all of these.

Like the actions of the Heathrow 13, radical political action must come at huge costs for the ruling class of CEOs and top Tories. However in the light of their convictions and possible incarceration – in addition to the recent incarceration of two anti-fascists after Cricklewood – we must criticise our tactics so that they become effective and secure to the greatest extent. Old tactics of bodily blockading must be questioned. Where found to be ineffective or insecure, they must be replaced with new forms of attack.

2 thoughts on “The Heathrow 13 are victims of state repression – and a culture of passive resistance

  1. Thank you for taking the time to write this. In my view, both accountable and unaccountable actions have value – what is appropriate depends on the aim, action, the time and the person. Both accountable actions (by which I mean actions where the people taking part expect to face legal consequences) and unaccountable actions (where you plan not to get caught) have pros and cons. We chose the right tactic for our aim, and through our work since the action we’ve brought sections of the green and social justice movements together that had not worked together before. Also, the government was forced, in December 2015, to delay a decision about airport expansion until at least the summer 2016. Our action at Heathrow, and the continued campaigning afterwards, was (and is) highly effective on a number of levels.

    So I strongly disagree with your characterisation of the Heathrow13 as ‘victims’. We are not victims in any sense. We are confident, defiant, and powerful people. What we did was right, and if we go to prison for a few weeks (which is the maximum punishment for this offence), then we’ll use that experience as an opportunity to learn and reflect, and continue our campaigning. I would see this time as valuable time – I am interested to learn why women go to prison and the circumstances that lead to that. When we come out of prison, we’ll campaign even harder, and we’ll already have a broad support base to work with when we come out.

    If we’re serious about ending fossil fuel culture – then there will need to be many more bold disruptive actions against fossil fuel infrastructure – on the scale of what we did, and beyond. People will go to prison for that, and some people that try to do so in an unaccountable way will get caught. What we need is a strong movement that will back people up when they do get repressed in this way. That’s the lesson of every successful radical movement that I can think of.


    On Wednesday 24th. February 2016, 13 ordinary people known as the Heathrow 13, will turn up at Willesden Magistrates’ Court, to hear what their sentences are going to be after having been found guilty, on 25th. January 2016, following a 2 week trial, of aggravated trespass which caused disruptions and delays at Heathrow Airport on 13th. July 2015. District Judge Deborah Wright told them that they should be prepared for “jail time” because of the “astronomical cost” that the disruption caused. As it has now been pointed out that these 13 ordinary people were NOT directly responsible for the “astronomical cost” I hope that she sees fit to withdraw her threat of jail from her sentencing and “let these ordinary people go free” to return to their families.

    It is time for Heathrow Airport to stand up and admit that “they were at fault”, and “responsible”, for allowing this group of ordinary people, who were peaceful protesters, to get past their security systems with all of their equipment and gain access to a restricted area, set up a sophisticated fortress with a polar bear on top of an iceberg and other members chained to it and cause disruption, delays and astronomical cost. They should be particularly grateful that this failing wasn’t discovered by a terrorist group who could have run amuck and caused untold mayhem. It is my understanding that in EU Law the airport owners and operators are “solely responsible” to make sure that nothing under their control, from a mechanical fault, a pilot not turning up, protesters blocking the entrance down to a simple fuse having blown, is allowed to cause any disruption and delays what so ever, and they should take “all steps to make sure that they can not happen” and that backup systems are in place to cover unforeseen happenings.

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