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Vol. 81/No. 25      July 10, 2017

(front page)

Workers demand action on deaths, social catastrophe

LONDON — When Grenfell Tower went up in flames in the early hours of June 14, killing at least 79 people and leaving hundreds homeless, it threw into sharp relief the U.K. capitalist rulers’ contempt for working people.

A fire which started in a refrigerator on the fourth floor spread rapidly upwards when “cladding” panels that cover the outside of the 24-story tower turned it into a blazing inferno. The panels were installed as part of a 2015-16 cosmetic renovation.

The Grenfell Action Group, made up of tower residents, had repeatedly sounded the alarm over negligence of fire safety by the local council, which owns the building and supervises some 10,000 other properties.

In November 2016 Edward Daffarn published a post on the action group’s website warning that “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord … and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.” Daffarn, who lives on the 16th floor, narrowly escaped with his life.

Building management responded by threatening legal action against Daffarn because of his blog.

Grenfell Action Group and fire safety experts warned about other hazards. A single staircase was the only escape route. It quickly filled with smoke. Fire alarms didn’t work. There was no sprinkler system. In 2014, Conservative Housing Minister Brandon Lewis resisted calls to make sprinklers compulsory, saying, “The cost of fitting a fire sprinkler system may affect house building — something we want to encourage.”

Both Labour and Conservative governments have worked overtime to pare back restrictions on construction, arguing cost concerns outweighed the risks of allowing flammable materials to be used, the New York Times reported June 24.

And capitalist greed knows no borders. The cladding strung around Grenfell was made by the U.S. company Arconic — formerly Alcoa — and marketed around the world, even after it was banned from high-rise construction in the U.S. because of its proven danger.

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people live in similar style tower blocks. Fire safety tests are now being carried out on 600 buildings. Of the 120 tested by June 28, all have failed. Hundreds have been thrown out into the streets in emergency “relocations” while others have refused to leave, despite intimidation from company security guards.

Grenfell Tower is located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which has the highest average incomes in the country — as well as the biggest gap between rich and poor.

Residents reported widespread confusion over what emergency housing and other assistance was available. Some ended up sleeping outdoors.

The borough council’s inaction stood in sharp contrast to the outpouring of support from working people, who brought donations and organized their distribution.

Prime Minister Theresa May drew anger when, the day after the fire, she visited police and firefighters — but not residents. When she returned for a second visit under heavy police protection, a large crowd gathered to confront her, with shouts of “Coward!” and “Shame on you!”

Hundreds of residents and supporters joined an angry protest at Kensington Town Hall, demanding immediate rehousing in the borough, financial assistance, a full list of victims, a review of safety at other buildings and that those responsible for the fire be brought to justice.

May was forced to apologize June 21 for “a failure of the state, local and national, to help people when they needed it most.”

The opposition Labour Party has posed as a defender of the affected workers. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn went to meet residents and called for the requisitioning of empty houses in the area. Labour “Shadow Chancellor” John McDonnell said the victims “were murdered by political decisions.” The thrust of Labour Party proposals is to blame “Tory cuts” and demand more regulation. In fact, the 2006 decision to not install sprinklers into existing high-rise council flats was taken by the Labour government of Tony Blair.

With the government unable to put a foot right, the rulers tried to boost “national unity” with a much-hyped visit to residents and volunteers by Queen Elizabeth and Prince William, who live down the road in Kensington Palace. “Put to the test, the United Kingdom has been resolute in the face of adversity,” said a statement released by the queen.

But this isn’t “adversity.” This is the normal workings of capitalism, backed by the government, and they bear the full responsibility for this disaster to working people.

McDonnell and Corbyn are calling for workers outraged by the Grenfell killings to join a July 1 march calling for the May government to step down. Instead of pointing the finger of responsibility at capitalism’s dog-eat-dog system, they say the Conservatives are responsible.

The Communist League is campaigning to get out the truth about the social disaster and to demand government action to aid those devastated by the fire. We invite workers and youth to join us in building a revolutionary working-class political party to chart a course towards working people taking political power.
Related articles:
UK: Grenfell fire deaths product of capitalist rule
Fight for safety on road to workers power
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