Socialist Worker

Battered and betrayed but still fighting back - Grenfell activists speak out

As the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire continues, many of those struggling as a result of the fire are being sidelined. Isabel Ringrose spoke to survivors and others affected about how their lives have been turned upside down—and how they are still organising to fight back

Issue No. 2731

Over three years after the Grenfell Tower fire, people are still fighting for truth and justice

Over three years after the Grenfell Tower fire, people are still fighting for truth and justice


It is three years and five months since the Grenfell Tower fire. But survivors, the bereaved and others who have been affected still don’t have justice. Phase Two of the inquiry into the fire is revealing the corporate greed of the companies responsible for the 2016 renovation that caused it.

Those whose lives have been torn apart are fighting for the truth with little or no support from the council and government.

Joseph, a survivor who lived in Grenfell, told Socialist Worker, “For me it has been like a nightmare. I’m still in temporary housing.

“Things have been really difficult mentally as well. It’s been really hard to cope. It’s hard to go about your daily living and do things you want to.

“I’ve had mental health support, but I haven’t had much support from the council. I’ve been forgotten as a survivor in the tower. But I’m still here and still fighting.”

Joseph explained what he needs to be able to start healing.

“For me, I need some truth,” he said. “I need people to be found guilty. If it was me or someone else, apart from the ministry or council, you’d have been in jail already.

“Why are they getting away with it, yet for a simple crime on the street you get put away? It shouldn’t be any different.”

Protesting outside the inquiry last week

Protesting outside the inquiry last week (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Since the fire, life for those affected has been extremely difficult. The fire, and poor housing in general, hits black and working class people the most.

As Joseph pointed out, there were no “rich people” in the tower. “It was a poor block, so they didn’t care about people,” he said.

Ten years of Tory austerity, including cuts to mental health services, means many people can’t get the support that would make a difference.

It was a poor block, so they didn't care about people

Joseph, Grenfell Tower survivor

Bea, who lives near Grenfell, told Socialist Worker, “I think a lot of people are still in shock. They still haven’t got their lives back together and haven’t been allowed to move on properly.”

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) is the richest borough in Britain. Yet ­alongside this immense wealth, people suffer trauma and injustice because conscious decisions were made to put profit before safety.

This also makes it one of the most unequal boroughs. And the pandemic has meant more poverty and housing problems.

“We chant ‘72 plus’ for those who were killed by negligence of the government and housing policies,” said Bea. “Plus those who have taken their lives subsequently, or died of heart attacks and stress since.

“People’s lives have been ruined.”

Grenfell campaigner Moyra told Socialist Worker, “People feel very raw and vulnerable. Covid-19 has added to the fear. People are going to be impacted even further by loss of job income.

“This is an enormous emotional battle.”

Moyra said many people feel “quite battered, betrayed and abandoned”. “We’ve been left in tatters and been dropped,” she said.

Collateral

“There’s a sense that people have lost any faith in democracy and justice. They just feel like they’re collateral damage.

“None of the recommendations have been implemented. That stands in the way of people recovering from trauma and grief. Once there is recognition that a wrong has been done they can start to heal, but the community is in limbo.”

MPs voted against implementing the safety recommendations from Phase One of the inquiry in September. This was despite government claims that it was “doing everything in our power” to implement them.

Nathaniel is writing a play about the events leading up to the fire. He told Socialist Worker, “There’s been a great deal of mental illness for people who survived and witnessed the fire.

“The community wants to see people in jail, but the big fear is that there will be no convictions. It happened at Hillsborough where no one went to jail.”

And many local people are furious at the response from the government and the council.

The fight for justice over the Grenfell Tower fire goes on

The fight for justice over the Grenfell Tower fire goes on (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Marianne, a Grenfell activist, told Socialist Worker, “People have been abandoned.

“We’re fighting so every family can sleep safe at night in the confidence that they will be okay. People have been treated so poorly, and we want to stop this happening across the rest of the country.

“The government should treat us as they would treat their own families. They wouldn’t let this happen to them.

We are standing up rather than being battered and knocked. Local people are trying to take control back.

Moyra, Grenfell activist

“It’s heartbreaking. MPs went back to parliament to vote on implementing the recommendations and didn’t. They had previously talked to the bereaved and we thought they felt our pain.”

Local resident Carol told Socialist Worker that the council needs to “work with us and actually start asking” what people need.

Leearna, a local activist, agreed. “RBKC were late on the scene,” she told Socialist Worker.

“They gave us a lot of fluff about recovery. They promised to listen, but they don’t want to hear. Recovery has been shaped around what they think we need.

“And for them, Covid-19 means they can ignore Grenfell demands. North Kensington is seen as low class and money is pushed into Chelsea.

“They set up Grenfell Assembly, and got rid of Grenfell Scrutiny. This was where the community would meet and ask questions to people in the council who were responsible.

“It was a chance to feel that we’re making sure they knew their failures. But at the Grenfell Assembly there is no discussion—they just collect our ideas and say they’ll answer them.”

Moyra added, “A lesson the community has learnt is that those in power do not play fair. They make the rules unless we call them out.

“We are standing up rather than being battered and knocked. Local people are trying to take control back.”


Solidarity for people abandoned by the system

Working class people abandoned by the authorities have come together to support each other in the wake of the Grenfell Fire.

Marianne said, “The Ladbroke Grove community are family to each other. If you hurt one of us, you’re hurting all of us. We want Justice for Grenfell.”

Carol said ordinary people had been “fantastic”. “If it wasn’t for the community I would’ve sunk”, she explained.

“And the community needs justice. Put those responsible in jail. RBKC needs to be put in special measures and completely start again.”

Joseph added, “Those fighting the fight encourage me to stay strong. The community is super important. They are fully supportive and united.

“They appreciate us and respect us and we appreciate and respect them. For me they have been there from the start.

“The council has not been involved and neither has the government. But the community hasn’t turned its back on us—they’ve even given us their clothes. We love them still and they love us back.”

Moyra explained the importance of ordinary people coming together.

Reclaim

“We’ve had to reclaim our history to help us feel empowered,” she said. “We have the history of the Mangrove Nine, and after the race riots, Carnival developed.

“We fought back in positive ways and stood up against police brutality and racism. We host one of the biggest street carnivals in Europe.

“And we’re multicultural.

“It’s hard work. People have been providing legal support, food, advice and there are some amazing projects happening.”

This contrasts with the lack of action from those in positions of power. Moyra said there is a lack of “strong political leadership” in the borough.

“There are only 13 Labour councillors on a council with 44 councillors,” she said. “And we lost our Labour MP.

“The Tory council have no way of connecting with us. We do feel like we’re on our own.

“The council is not going to vote in our interests. They’re doing what they feel they have to, but everyone recognises it’s a media, box tick operation.”


Protesters say getting justice means ‘jail time’ for bosses

The Grenfell weekly protest took place outside the inquiry on Thursday of last week to demand justice.

The inquiry has heard further evidence from Celotex, the company that produced the insulation used on Grenfell.

Celotex’s sales manager admitted that the marketing was misleading. The firm claimed that insulation was “suitable for buildings above 18 metres in height”.

But on Wednesday, the inquiry heard that this claim could only be made with an “extremely important caveat”. The insulation had only passed a fire safety test within a specific cladding system. This was not put on Grenfell.

Celotex saw Grenfell as a “flagship” for its product and exploited the “smoke of confusion” surrounding building regulations.

On Thursday the inquiry heard that the insulation was actually a rebrand of a product that had failed fire tests. The rebrand aimed to compete with rival firm Kingspan.

Carol called Celotex “sick profiteers”. Leearna said, “I used to follow the inquiry rigidly, but I can’t now. It’s too distressing. I’m traumatised from what happened.

“We started protesting after a survivor who lost his wife in the fire tried to get into the inquiry but was rudely told he couldn’t.

“They wouldn’t even let him use the toilet. It’s not good enough, so we decided someone needs to be here.”

Bea said, “I can barely look at the news. I’ve stopped following the inquiry and reading reports. It’s horrendous. And there’s been a huge push to blame other organisations. It’s so frustrating.

“The government needs to spend the money they said they would and rip this cladding out of people’s houses. Justice means jail time and a significant change to regulations.”

The protest was loud with chanting, whistles and horns to show that ordinary people will not stop fighting.

“We will fight, united,” said Joseph. “We have to show them no matter what they do to us we’re still standing and willing to fight.

“Everything is coming out now, so many dark stories are being unravelled. It’s hard for me to cope with all this evidence coming out.

“It’s super difficult and so many things have been hidden. They set a death trap for us and forced people inside.

“But we’re not going anywhere and we’re not giving up. No justice, no peace.”

Protest to demand justice for Grenfell outside the inquiry - Thursday 19 November, 11.30am-1pm, 13 Bishop's Bridge Road, Paddington, London W2 6BU

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