A burned building, dark and empty. Over 600 working class people used to live here. 78 are now confirmed death (although this number will most likely go up) . They died as their tower burned in the night, unable to escape. Now we would not be surprised if this happened in a African country. We all know how little care is given to safety regulations in corrupt African nations. Although many black people and Muslims lived in the tower, the building was not located in poor Africa. Instead it stood in rich Great Britain. A country with high safety standards when it comes to protecting buildings from fire. Yet the Grenfell Tower fire proofed again how capitalist greed led to the death of many innocent people!
Grenfell Tower is located in North Kensington on the western edge of Inner London, in a mainly working-class housing complex. The tower was build in 1974 and owned by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Its operators were the Kensington and Chelsea TMO, who runs more then 10,000 properties on behalf of Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council. Most of the 600 people who lived at the Grenfell Tower were low income working class people. It was a multicultural tower with people from many religions and cultures. Renovation was not decided until 2012 when the council agreed on renovating the tower. Studio E Architects carried out the work which costs around 8,7 million British pounds. The concrete structure received new windows and new aluminium composite cladding to improve the appearance of the building. After the work was done in 2016, the Grenfell Tower looked ”modern” which was nice for the wealthier British classes!
The people who lived at the tower were not happy with the work. They organized themselves in the Grenfell Action Group and have criticized not only the conservative led council but also the organisation that operated the Grenfell Tower. In 2013 a fire broke out which should have been a warning . Although the action group demanded major changes to be made, the Conservatives who dominated the city council refused to listen. They fully trusted Kensington and Chelsea TMO and this trust has now resulted in the deaths of at least 78 people. Working class people who would not have died had they been rich whites. Because we all know that a tower for rich white people would not have been neglected!
Grenfell Action Group wrote in November 2016:
It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders. We believe that the KCTMO are an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of looking after the every day management of large scale social housing estates and that their sordid collusion with the RBKC Council is a recipe for a future major disaster.
Unfortunately, the Grenfell Action Group have reached the conclusion that only an incident that results in serious loss of life of KCTMO residents will allow the external scrutiny to occur that will shine a light on the practices that characterise the malign governance of this non-functioning organisation. We believe that the KCTMO have ensured their ongoing survival by the use of proxy votes at their Annual General Meeting that see them returned with a mandate of 98% in favour of the continuation of their inept and highly dangerous management of our homes. It is no coincidence that the 98% is the same figure that is returned by the infamous Kim Jong-un of North Korea who claims mass popularity while reputedly enslaving the general population and starving the majority of his people to death.
On 14 June 2017, at 0:54 British time, their greatest fears became a reality. A small electrical fire led to a huge blaze. After only 15 minutes, the whole side of the tower was engulfed. It is said that the fire started on the second floor and moved its way up. Because KCTMO had used cheap materials when they renovated the building in 2016, the fire worked its way up on the recently installed cladding. As the plastic melted it ignited new fires on new floors. Only 30 minutes after the inferno began, the apartments on the 25th floor were also burning!
The only reason why not hundreds of people were fast asleep was due to Ramadan. Many Muslims were up at night, celebrating their right to eat again after sunset. When the fire broke out at 0:54 a.m, the Islamic residents were able to wake up and warn their neighbors. Escape proofed difficult as the stairways were soon smoke-filled. Also the fire warning note provided by KCTMO told the people to stay in their apartments. Many were waiting while the fire slowly destroyed home after home. More then 200 firefighters were fighting the blaze and tried to save residents at the same time. In all it said that 65 people were rescued from the fire. Out of 600 it is very possible that 100 or more are death. The official number on 19 June is 78. But many remain missing and firefighters have not yet entered all burnout apartments!
One thing is very clear. The renovation of 2016 only made Grenfell Tower look modern, its poor safety record was not improved. Revolutionary Socialist Media understands why the disaster happened. It happened because the pro-capitalist city council and Kensington and Chelsea TMO just did not care about these working class people living in a 43 year old tower. A tower that was in need to renovation, but because its residents were poor and not ethnic British (white), few officials really cared. London has more towers which houses migrant workers. 1/3 of the capital is said to be living in poverty and 48% of all poor in London belong to the Islamic religion. Yet at Grenfell Tower it was thanks to Islam that people were awake at 0:54 am. Had the Muslim population not been up it is possible that the fire would have surprised many in their sleep. Heroic stories can be told of people from all religions and backgrounds, working together to save lives!
The anger at the council and the landlord is understandable. People died because of capitalist neglect. Now workers want answers. But revolutionary socialists point out that the destruction of the Grenfell Tower is just one symptom of capitalism. The fact that flame able material was used because it was more cheaper, shows why the capitalist mentality of KCTMO contributed to the deaths. It is very possible that the fire had not reached the upper apartments so fast, if the tower had not been renovated with new external cladding. The Socialist Party in West London has made the following demands after this terrible disaster. They rightfully link the austerity cuts of the conservative government to the neglect at Grenfell Tower.
- It is essential that the 400-600 people made homeless are rapidly rehoused locally in secure and affordable accommodation. Tenants must have permanent secure tenancies, not assured shortholds or other tenures, and leaseholders must have proper arrangements as well. The government must move fast and no talk of lack of money can be accepted in this situation.
- We need a major investigation into Grenfell House and the implications for housing around the country. That investigation must be genuinely independent of government and must be free to draw out the implications of spending cuts and to make recommendations that do not compromise safety because of austerity. It must be led by trade unions and residents groups drawing on independent expertise. There must be criminal prosecutions where appropriate.
- All councils should immediately inspect safety on every housing estate and invest urgently, with no excuses about cuts, in ensuring safe materials, adequate exits and space, etc
- Labour councils should refuse to pass on any further cuts. Stop all privatisation of housing, repairs and renovation!
- London mayor Sadiq Khan should reverse all cuts to the London fire service.
- The site must remain publicly owned – no concessions to vulture property speculators.
- Residents in nearby housing must have their concerns over safety near the ruined tower answered. They must be rehoused safely if there is any danger – and if there is not, urgent maintenance and upgrade work must be carried out due to the damage to the estate.
- The decision on whether to keep or demolish high-rise blocks must lie with the residents themselves. Tower blocks are safe if properly built and maintained. If, however, residents would prefer low-rise accommodation, the council must build it and fight for the funds to do it properly – like the Liverpool Labour council of 1984-87 did, led by Militant (now the Socialist Party).
Simply changing the building regulations would not be an adequate response as existing buildings would need to be reviewed. The cost implications could be significant but austerity cannot be allowed to delay a response
Statement of the Socialist Party