Thursday 14 June marks one year since a fire ripped through Grenfell Tower in west London, killing at least 72 people.
As the first stages of the inquiry into the fire begin, justice for the dead and the survivors seems distant.
Joe Delaney from the Grenfell Action Group told Socialist Worker, “The game of pass the parcel of blame is well underway.
“It just goes to show why these companies made the decisions they did in relation to the tower. They’re putting their own interests before the interests of the greater good, or what’s morally right.”
The firm that manufactured the flammable cladding, Arconic, has blamed the rapid spread of the fire on badly-installed windows.
The Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) has claimed it did not have proficiency in building design or construction. It is trying to imply that the contractors are to blame. They are—but so is the KCTMO.
“Some of us did make complaints, some of us did want our concerns to be known,” Antonio Roncolato, who escaped from the fire, told Socialist Worker. “Edward Daffarn from the Grenfell Action Group had the door slammed in his face whenever he raised concerns.”
Antonio said those responsible for the fire are “passing the buck continuously”.
“The KCTMO passed on work and contracts to others through subcontracting,” he said. “But ultimately they are responsible because they have to answer to the council, and they have to answer to the residents.
“They are guilty of this, responsible for it, so they must face the consequences.”
The council, the KCTMO and others hope to blame a “flawed regulatory system” for the fact that flammable cladding was used on Grenfell Tower.
In an opening statement to the inquiry, the council’s lawyer said, “The Hackitt Review [into building standards] highlights the likelihood that lessons need to be learned on a national level as well as on a local level.”
It’s true that Tory policies and unsafe systems make ordinary people less safe. But this can’t be used by those responsible for the Grenfell fire to escape responsibility.
The inquiry will not address wider societal questions. There’s also a danger that the ongoing inquiry could be used as an excuse to delay urgent work to make other buildings safe.
Lawyer Michael Mansfield has demanded that the inquiry make recommendations faster.
He estimated that the interim report from phase one of the inquiry would not be released “until perhaps the beginning of next year”.
The inquiry’s chair, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, had previously said it would be released by Easter of this year.
Mansfield speculated that the final report would not be delivered for another year after the inquiry’s initial report.
He argued that initial recommendations, in particular recommendations that cladding be removed, should be made as early as this summer.
Lawyer Imran Khan slammed the “institutional racism” that lies behind Grenfell.
He argued that the inquiry’s terms of references be extended to consider the contribution of “institutional racism” as well as issues of class and religion.
And lawyers for the bereaved and survivors want the terms of reference broadened to include political decisions made at the highest levels of government.
The inquiry is a battleground. What that justice looks like, and how to get it, is contested.
But ordinary people are not simply observers of the inquiry—they can take action that can shape its outcome. We must take to the streets and pass motions of affiliation to the Justice4Grenfell campaign through trade unions.
All of this can help build the campaign for justice.
‘They think about the rich - they don’t care about us’
Thousands of people took to the streets to demand justice for Grenfell in the days and weeks after the fire.
On 16 June, two days after the fire, some 3,000 people marched from Kensington and Chelsea town hall to the remains of Grenfell Tower.
One young person, crying, told the crowd, “This government thinks about money first. They think about rich people—they don’t care about us.”
Earlier in the day, Theresa May had visited a church close to the scene of the fire. She was forced to hide behind lines of police as a crowd of angry local residents heckled and shouted at her.
At the same time as the town hall protest, some 2,000 marched in central London and blocked the road at Oxford Circus.
Addy from west London said, “They don’t give a shit about the poor. If you’re working class you can burn.”
John Sweeney, a BBC Newsnight reporter, was among the demonstrators and was unnerved by the mood. “Politics has left parliament and gone into the streets,” he said.
In the days and weeks after the fire people came from across Britain to bring donations and help out. Volunteers stepped in where the council melted away. Property guardians, who live in empty buildings for cheaper rents, opened up the doors to assist.
The argument that the empty homes of the rich should be used for the survivors became a common sense demand.
“Burn neoliberalism, not people,” tweeted Labour MP Clive Lewis.
Monthly Silent Walks have helped to keep people on the streets and visible. Two months after the fire some 500 people attended.
Now over a thousand people regularly attend the march. Meetings and rallies have also helped to keep the anger alive.
At one meeting four weeks after the fire one man said, “The authorities never listen. Because you are a tenant, you are classified as sub-human.
“If you need 1,000 officers working round the clock to find the guilty people, find 1,000 officers.”
At another meeting Sir Martin Moore-Bick, head of the inquiry into the fire, became the target of the anger. He had said he needed to “go away and think” about survivors’ suggestion that he should broaden the scope of the inquiry.
“Can I just confirm that you’re all happy all this goes on ice for four weeks?” he asked—and was met with uproar.
The following months have seen Moore-Bick and May forced onto the back foot—particularly over the question of extra panel members for the inquiry.
Whenever survivors and the bereaved have had the opportunity to hold the council to account, the anger has been visceral.
At the first full council meeting after the fire survivors tore into the council. Edward Daffarn, the author of the Grenfell Action Group blog, slammed the Tory-led council.
Now the inquiry is underway, it’s vitally important to keep up the pressure from below.
Moore-Bick must be made to hear that anger over the dry legal arguments put forward by some at the inquiry. That means protests and rallies must continue.
This week’s Silent Walks, increasingly happening in multiple cities simultaneously, and the protest on Saturday are important markers.
Some people would prefer the issue of Grenfell to go away. The protests, walks and meetings are a sign to those people that it won’t.
What should we demand?
- A full amnesty for undocumented migrants with information about the fire. Only a partial one has been extended so far
- A complete rehaul of the regulatory framework that allowed flammable cladding to be used
- A line in the sand over social housing—end the stigma and low funding, and build new, safe council housing
- The criminal prosecution of people who made the decisions that allowed the Grenfell Tower fire to happen