Socialist Worker

Anger over Grenfell murder needs to focus on the very top

If the inferno victims are to see any kind of justice the buck can’t stop at the local council, argues Alistair Farrow

Issue No. 2560

The murder of working class people at Grenfell has raised serious questions about the safety of housing

The murder of working class people at Grenfell has raised serious questions about the safety of housing (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The furious response from working class people following the Grenfell Tower inferno has pushed the Tories to review 4,000 social housing units across Britain. The work is being carried out by the Building Research Establishment.

Some 75 buildings across 26 local authorities had been inspected by Monday night. Cladding samples from all of them had failed fire safety tests.

This raises serious questions about the safety of housing.

Independent fire safety audits have fallen by a quarter since the Tories took office in 2010.

Budgets for the fire service have been slashed from over £400 million in 2010-2011 to some £325 million in 2019-2020 according to the Fire Brigades Union.

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson presided over vicious cuts to the London Fire Brigade when he was London mayor.

Theresa May’s new senior adviser Gavin Barwell was voted out as a MP. He suppressed a report into tower block fire safety when he was housing minister.

Just one month before the Grenfell fire the Association of British Insurers warned that “external cladding made from combustible material can often cause significant fire to spread upward and between buildings”.

The Tories are directly responsible for Grenfell.

As shadow chancellor John McDonnell put it, “Those families, those individuals—79 so far and there will be more—were murdered by political decisions that were taken over recent decades.”

Disgracefully, Grenfell survivors have been kicked out of a Premier Inn hotel after being told it had reservations.

Some other residents, especially those who may not be the registered tenant or who are undocumented migrants, are still receiving no help.

Umar Bah, a delivery driver who comes originally from Senegal, had been living on the sofa of a friend on the 22nd floor of Grenfell Tower.

They were at the mosque on the night of the fire, and watched as their home burned. 

He has been sleeping on the floor of the al-Manaar mosque, which remained open during Ramadan, but on Sunday night he found himself homeless.

“I haven’t been offered anything,” he told newspapers. “They don’t seem to want to help me. The only thing I got was a bottle of water. I’m 100 percent homeless.”

Properties 

There are 1,400 empty properties in Kensington and Chelsea. They should be opened up to survivors. And if they aren’t given over willingly, they should be taken.

Anger needs to be focused toward the very top of the state.

The Tories want to keep the scandal as far from Downing Street as possible.

That means a central demand of the campaign needs to be for the ministers responsible to be held to account.

Chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea council Nicholas Holgate was forced to resign last week under pressure from Sajid Javid, minister for the Department of Communities and Local Government.

He is reported to be in line to receive a six-figure sum as compensation.

And council leader Nick Paget-Brown is reported to have offered his resignation at a council cabinet meeting last week—but no councillor wanted to take on his job.

Last Thursday Theresa May told MPs, “One of the first acts of the new chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea council will be to look at the tenant management organisation and any action that needs to be taken.”

The Tories are feeling the pressure after a disastrous fortnight for them that saw the Tory prime minister chased out of Ladbroke Grove to jeers of, “Coward!” from local residents.

That pressure needs to be kept up if the victims of the Grenfell massacre are to see any kind of justice.


London council evacuates 800 homes over safety fears

Councils are falling over themselves to prevent another Grenfell happening.

But it shouldn’t have taken the deaths of at least 79 people to get proper safety checks.

Camden council evacuated 800 flats from the Chalcots estate in the north London borough last Friday night after the discovery of combustible cladding.

The London Fire Brigade also discovered doors and pipe installations that posed a fire risk.

Wandsworth council in south London said it will be retro-fitting sprinkler systems to some 100 social housing blocks in the area—over 6,000 flats.

In Islington, north London, eight tower blocks were being investigated. Executive councillor for housing Diarmaid Ward spoke to Socialist Worker about what the council is doing.

“At the moment there’s one tower which tests have shown there is material on the sides which is potentially combustible,” he said.

“We have put in place 24-hour safety patrols around the building. On Friday morning there was a full fire risk assessment. The cladding will be coming off on Monday morning.

“The potentially combustible material on Braithwaite Tower was installed in 1997.

“There will be a full investigation into how that decision was made.”

The government must be forced to provide the money for all this work or it will mean more cuts in council services.


Firm is under microscope

Rydon, the firm responsible for the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, won the contract by undercutting rival bids.

Rydon’s bid was nearly £3 million less than a rival bid for the same contract. The cladding irs subcontractor Harley Curtain Garden used cost £2 less per panel than others produced by the same manufacturer which were fire-resistant.

To clad the entire building in the fire-retardant cladding would have cost just £5,000 more in total.

Throughout the refurbishment activists from the Grenfell Action Group raised concerns about the way Rydon and its subcontractors were carrying out the work.

The firm has left a trail of angry clients across public sector housing over the last decade. It has targeted the sector as a source of revenue.

Camden council is seeking legal advice after it emerged Rydon had installed flammable cladding on tower blocks in the north London borough.

“There are questions about how the contract to run the estate was implemented,” one council worker told Socialist Worker.

“Rydon had the contract to refurbish and manage the maintenance of the estate. Who signed off on those decisions?”

In Islington council, one surveyor’s report into the firm’s work found it to be “very poor”.


An inquiry, or an inquest?

Inquests into the deaths at Grenfell Tower began on Tuesday of this week.

Debates within the campaign for justice and among survivors of Grenfell partially centre around what direction the legal campaign should go.

For instance, should people argue for inquests or an inquiry?

An inquest investigates the specific circumstances around a death. An inquiry has a more far-reaching field of investigation and can look at the culpability of people and organisations outside those directly connected.

The Inquest campaign group has argued for both an inquiry and an inquest.

At a vigil in North Kensington last week barrister Michael Mansfield said, “It’s not a matter of do we have an inquiry or an inquest? Have both.

“Those who have got the strength need to come together to put in representations for what the inquiries should be about.

“We need unity, solidarity and one umbrella organisation that can unite people.

 


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.