A public inquiry into last year’s Grenfell tower fire that killed at least 80 people has revealed the dangers of austerity, deregulation and inequality under the Tories. The Grenfell Action Group had previously said that a disaster was inevitable after their repeated warnings about fire hazards were ignored by the council and the ‘social’ landlord. Grenfell’s doors, its ventilation system and the buildings “dry fire main” system were all non-compliant with fire safety standards. Even after fatal fires in Shirley Tower and Lakanal House, the government failed to act on recommendations for the retrofitting of sprinklers in high rise buildings.
All the while, the Conservatives made cuts to the fire service in pursuit of their austerity agenda. An expert on structures and fires confirmed suspicions that the highly flammable polyethylene cladding that surrounded the exterior of the building was the primary cause of the fire’s spread. The cladding had been added in a recent renovation ordered by the majority-Tory Kensington and Chelsea council as part of their wider gentrification agenda. It has now come to light that the firm responsible for this “clear and significant” fire hazard had cheated safety tests previously by treating the material with additional fire retardant.
Alarmingly, there are 220 buildings with similar cladding across the UK, as well as a lack of working sprinklers in residential towers and a lack of other fire precautions. The government has continuously put the profits of big business above the safety of ordinary people. In one of London’s richest boroughs, a stone’s throw away from huge mansions, the fact that Grenfell was completely unequipped in fire safety measures is unacceptable.
Theresa May says her party is “minded” to take action on the issue. Locally, the Tories surveyed residents in affluent parts of the borough, asking how important Grenfell was to them on a sclae of 1-10! It’s disgusting that the deaths of some 80 people are only worth taking action on if it can secure some votes. The many personal tragedies revealed through the tributes heard in the inquiry make the nasty tabloid lies the community has faced all the more sickening.
Despite this, the Grenfell community, many of whom are still in the insecurity of temporary housing, has stood in solidarity against the local council, the government and their harmful policies. Their willingness to fight stands as a lesson to us all. The trade union movement must demand empty properties owned by speculators are requisitioned to provide decent housing for those who need it and emergency action to ensure all housing is brought up to fire safety standards.
by Christopher Stewart