Grenfell Tower fire - murderous neglect driven by capitalist greed

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
21 June 2017

Less than a week after the arrogant Theresa May got her comeuppance in the 8th June election, the Grenfell Tower fire exposed, once again, the real nature of this capitalist system:  a system run by a tiny minority of wealthy capitalists for their sole benefit, while the lives of the working-class majority on whose sweat these parasites thrive, come cheap.
    The "Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea", where the Grenfell Tower council estate is located, is the richest in Britain, which is itself one of the world's richest countries.  Nevertheless, 79 people died on 14th June, possibly more, but we may never know, in a fire that suddenly engulfed the tower in which they lived.  Some were burnt alive, others probably died from breathing in toxic gases, but they all died because they were working-class people and because, for this reason, no-one in authority gave a damn about their welfare.

A history of criminal mismanagement

The circumstances that produced this fire constitute a catalogue of criminal neglect spanning almost four decades, in which every government, Tory and Labour, dismantled piece by piece the entire framework which offered a safe roof to working-class households who couldn't afford to buy.
    It all started with Thatcher's sell-off of social housing, her turn of the screw on council resources and her dismantling of councils' direct works departments.  The Tories' "bonfire of red tape" was launched at that time, when the requirement for fire-proof lobbies in high rises was repealed to squeeze more flats onto each floor.  Never mind that these lobbies were meant to allow tenants to remain safe in their flats until the firemen arrived.
    Then came the flurry of subcontracting, first under the Tories and then, under Labour.  Housing departments, council estate management, etc., were all subcontracted.  Maintenance became an afterthought, not to mention renovation.  Everything had to be done on the cheap, since this was how the subcontractors managed to make money out of their contracts.  The fire-proof doors which were meant to confine the flames to the floor where they had started, ceased to be fire-proof for lack of maintenance.  Emergency staircases disappeared too.  The whole framework on which fire protection was based in these towers melted away, while private contractors were given a chance to parasitise public funds.
    Then, around the year 2000, someone invented the ultimate "cheap" way of prettifying these blocks of concrete.  They were to be packaged from top to bottom into a dual envelope of nice-looking cladding on the outside, thermal insulant on the inside, with a one-inch gap in between.
    In 2009, the cladding covering the 14-storey Lakanal House, in Camberwell, went up in flames within a few minutes.  Six people died; the council was fined for breaking fire regulations.  Four years later the enquiry commission report insisted on the need to ensure that cladding material should be fire-proof and floors fitted with water sprinklers.

Abysmal contempt for the poor

But nothing was done.  Worse even, since 2010, Tory ministers repealed the obligation to fit new housing with sprinklers - claiming this would discourage developers from building homes.
    What happened at Grenfell Tower was a repetition of Lakanal House, only on a much greater scale.  The council decided that the tower needed prettifying in order not to upset the local rich - among whom are David Beckham, Michael Gove, Amber Rudd, Prince William and a whole lot more from the Who's Who of Britain's wealthiest.
    So Grenfell Tower got its cladding.  But it had to be cheap, the cheapest possible.  Cladding which was not fire-resistant was used, to save £5,000, even though it was illegal.  Its insulant contained polyisocyanurate, which, when it catches fire, releases the same kind of lethal gas that was used during the two World Wars as well as by Hitler in his extermination camps.  No sprinklers were fitted, no doubt to save the £200,000 they would have cost.  This, when just one flat in the borough sells for an average £1.4m and when the council was awarding tax rebates to its wealthy inhabitants because it had underspent on its budget!
    Yes, the Grenfell Tower fire was a catastrophe waiting to happen, as residents warned time and again, especially after wiring faults causing short-circuits started to occur.  But the council sat on its hands.  Eventually, on 14th June, a short-circuit set a fridge alight on the 4th floor.  Then the cladding caught fire and in a few minutes the whole tower was in flames.  Firemen had to be brought from all over London due to Boris Johnson's cuts in the fire service.  There were not enough of them.  79 of our sisters and brothers died.  Some had escaped from the Syrian gunmen and fled to Britain, in search of safety.  They were burnt alive because they were poor.
    So, yes the residents of Grenfell Tower are right to be angry and we should all be.  A system that is not prepared to protect its own should be overthrown and replaced with a society run by all, for the benefit of all.