by E. Robinson
A week ago today on the 14th of June, the public housing flat Grenfell Tower caught fire and spread rapidly to the rest of the building. At the time of writing, 79 have been confirmed missing or dead (and still rising), some of whom may never be identified and many are still missing, police are now presuming dead. Reports say that emergency services arrived on the scene in a matter of minutes to combat the fires, rescue survivors and aid those who managed to escape.
Despite the heroism of the fire fighters, their efforts were hindered by cuts to the public sector by the Conservative government: 10 stations closed and over 500 fire fighters lost their jobs in order to save £45 million over the 2 years following 2014 when the cuts were made. Three of these stations are said to be near to Grenfell Tower. Had the cuts not taken place, not only could there have been more fire fighters and fire engines on the site, but the response time would have been quicker.
Our current Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May then had the audacity to meet with emergency services in the aftermath and pretend to sympathise with the victims, and then outright refuse to meet with any survivors for ‘security concerns’, making it very clear she does not care about the suffering of the poor.
The cuts to the public sector are not the only factors that led to the fire. The wealthy tenants and landlords surrounding Grenfell Tower had complained that the building was an eyesore and required refurbishment. This resulted in £10 million (by the local council) being spent to improve the aesthetics. The cladding used to ‘improve’ the structure was a cheaper material that was said to be very flammable.
It has since come out that the residents of Grenfell Tower had been complaining for years that it was an unsafe building. There was no sprinkler system, which would have cost around £300,000 to install, which could easily have been built had the £10m wasted on aesthetics been spent on preventing loss of life instead of indulging the rich. £4,000 could have been spent to have a fire extinguisher on every level. Instead there were only fire extinguishers on the top floor and basement, half of which were condemned; residents also reported that fire alarms, a basic piece of equipment, weren’t working.
In 2016, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn proposed an amendment to make it a requirement for landlords to make accommodation safe for human habitation. 312 MP voted against these amendments, 72 of which were private landlords themselves who would have had to pay out to make ‘their properties’ safe. The actions of these MPs have made it clear that they value profit over people and that, in their eyes, our lives aren’t worth protecting.
The alleged cause of the fire was a ‘faulty’ fridge. However some news sites like The Sun have release articles that portray the man who owned the fridge as the perpetrator, in a transparent attempt to shift the blame from the wealthy onto the common people:
(Note: the original article was altered after the screenshot was taken).
The man in question was as much a victim of the fire as everyone else, and in fact assisted in evacuating the other residence. The idea that by simply owning the fridge he could be responsible is insulting.
To blame a fridge solely for this is absurd. Appliances have been built with deliberate obsolescence for decades. The capitalists design products to fail in order to continue selling more and make a profit. I doubt that the fridge was deliberately designed to explode and cause a fire; The company would get massive backlash if that were the case. However, deliberate obsolescence isn’t the only obsolescence, as explained in Vance Packard’s The Waste Maker:
In addition to having obsolescence deliberately built into it to shorten its life, a product may be shoddy for a number of reasons. The shoddiness may be due to haste caused by the strain of bringing out a new model every year. It may be caused by skimping on the product itself in order to feed advertising and sales costs. Or it can be caused by just plain corner cutting.
A capitalist economy rarely produces quality products; It produces glorified junk, and we should recognised that while this contributed to the situation, it was not the main cause. Theresa May has called for a public inquiry; She and others responsible obviously intend to try and whitewash the event.
There have been protests following the fire and the information coming out, people gathering around the remains of Grenfell Tower, giving speeches and moments of silence. Protesters also stormed Kensington town hall on 16th June chanting ‘we want justice’, a very level headed response considering the government’s clear disregard for human life. On the same day, protesters gathered outside a church where the PM was said to have set up a meeting with the victims. However, she outright refused to speak to anyone outside that meeting, sparking the crowds to chant ‘coward’ and ‘shame on you’ as police rushed her to a getaway car. If this ‘meeting’ is anything like her election campaign then it was nothing more than a propaganda piece to try and salvage her public image. The people’s response to her actions has shown that they will not be fooled.
She was then seen in an interview with the BBC where she announced that finally she will release funds of £5 million to aid the victims that survived the fire. While this is certainly welcome, it has come late and seems more like a move to save face than an act of generosity. Jeremy Corbyn has called for the vacant properties around the Tower to be seized by the government and opened for the victims. If Theresa May’s comments tell us anything, it is that to do this would be unreasonable, and instead the victims should wait for the aid to reach them and then have to potentially wait up to three weeks to be rehoused.
It has come out that victims ‘lucky’ enough to be housed are now hundreds of miles from Grenfell Tower and their community, with the government and the wealthy unprepared to allow them to stay in vacant housing within their area. One victim has also failed to receive more than £20 from the relief fund. The way these people are being treated is sickening. Grenfell Tower is a shocking example of how little the government and the wealthy, greedy landlords and corporations care about people’s safety, putting profit ahead of sentient life. It is naked class war.
UPDATE: Moments after publishing this post, the Evening Standard released an article; It seems as though Jeremy Corbyn’s call to seize properties near Grenfell Tower have been answered. The Homes and Communities Agency, who claim to be acting on behalf of the government, have bought 68 flats in a ‘luxury’ block to (apparently) permanently rehouse the victims. Though this is a victory for the people, we should meet it with aggressive acknowledgement that the government is finally doing something right, largely thanks to pressure from Corbyn’s call to requisition property. Hopefully this is genuine with no hidden strings attached.