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LETTERS: ‘Back office’ cuts had dire consequences for Grenfell

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Issue 2561
The preventable blaze at Grenfell Tower
The preventable blaze at Grenfell Tower (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Socialist Worker is absolutely right to highlight the scandal of fire station closures and the reduction of firefighter numbers in London.

However cuts in so-called support staff also create the conditions in which a shocking tragedy such as Grenfell Tower becomes more likely.

Since 2008 the number of support staff in the London Fire Brigade, including fire safety workers, has been reduced from 1300 to 800.

These workers were cut by Boris Johnson, then London mayor, before the firefighter cuts.

The Tories perceived them to be “back office” staff and therefore politically easier to get rid of than those seen as “frontline”.

But in the view of the Unison union branch at the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, fire safety work is “frontline” as well as firefighting.

Fire Safety Inspecting Officers (FSIOs) have been asked to increase the numbers of fire safety audits they carry out with no additional resources.

Unison members have complained that this sacrifices quality to quantity and I took this up with management before last month’s tragedy.

Two days after the Grenfell Tower fire, the unions received a letter from London mayor Sadiq Khan. It warned of a “challenging” budget round in 2018-19—in other words, of yet more cuts in the fire brigade.

Even senior managers have admitted that the brigade has already been cut to the bone.

These cuts cost lives.

Instead of more cuts, one of the outcomes of the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster should be a significant increase in funding for fire and rescue authorities.

This needs to include a major increase in the number of FSIOs and the administrative staff who process the findings of their audits.

Tony Phillips, Branch secretary, Unison London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority

We need socialism

Ashamedly, and in a clear reflection of my privilege, I admit it took the tragic fire in Grenfell Tower to awaken me to the urgent need for change.

I have realised I can no longer stay passive and let these injustices continue.

It has become clear to me that as long as we exist in a capitalist system, real change will be limited.

But I often struggle to imagine anything different.

The other day at the justice for Grenfell Tower protest I bought a copy of your paper and found that my ideals were in line with a lot of your writings.

In the past I dismissed anything with the word “socialism” involved, but I am now very keen to learn more.

I have a growing urge to do something and I don’t think it can be suffocated any longer.

Annie, by email

Refuse to be tamed

Activists from the “global south” hear far too often that we need to become “professional” and “management efficient”.

The only way donors will fund a human rights movement is if it becomes an NGO.

This is submission to a system that disempowers and controls the movement, despite all the slogans of “empowerment” and being “grassroots-led”.

As soon as a well-meaning group of activists starts this process, the problems begin.

First they have to sign a memorandum of agreement. Then they have to be inducted into the “good governance” model dictated by that donor.

Then an NGO has to adopt a human resource policy, finance policy, operating procedures and more.

Training programmes and meetings tell us how to act in order to continue getting funding.

In this activist-taming culture, NGOs slowly forget to engage with real people.

The grassroots people—fashionably called the “target population”—find an ever widening class gap between them and the NGO management.

International conferencing risks making you part of a conferencing club of free flights and posh hotels, only seeing your conference buddies.

You can’t really say anything against the donors who have funded your trip and they know this well.

Grassroots activists, don’t become corporate “professionals”. Stay raw and innocent and you will deliver much better.

Sunil Pant, LGBT+ campaigner, Nepal

IT cuts put the burden of cyber attacks on workers

I work for a subsidiary of the massive advertising conglomerate WPP.

A cyber attack last week brought the whole company completely offline. All our servers were down and our drives were infected with ransomware. This means the company would have to pay to access its own data.

We used to have a couple of IT workers in our workplace but they were sacked. Now all our IT is outsourced to IBM and done remotely from India.

Trying to resolve an IT problem when you have someone in the office with you can be hard enough. But getting it done through a call centre is even harder.

It’s left to workers to spend all their time chasing the issue, get passed from one part of IBM to another, and navigate the bureaucracy of a massive corporation on another continent.

Name withheld

Did you miss the Tube hold-up?

Your coverage of workplace struggles is routinely excellent.

So I was surprised that you did not cover the RMT union’s ballot on London Underground failing to pass the new thresholds imposed by the Tory Trade Union Act.

This is the strongest section of the RMT’s membership and the union put extensive work into winning the ballot.

I hope that you will cover the issue as you did with the loss of the Unison local government workers’ ballot in Scotland.

Professor Gregor Gall, University of Bradford

Don’t let the Mail bully you

Nadia Sayed is right to defy the hostile coverage of her in the Daily Mail newspaper for protesting over the Grenfell Tower fire (Letters, 27 June).

The Tory rag does not want the disaster to draw unwanted attention to the government’s failings.

Keep up the protests, I say!

Tracey “Rozza” Mckeown, on Facebook

Were we right to vote Leave?

You ask if you were right to cheer the vote to Leave the European Union (EU) last year (Socialist Worker online, 27 June).

The answer is no. The main reason people voted for Brexit was not to be anti-establishment but because of anti-immigration sentiment.

Dave Flynn, on Facebook

The answer is yes. The EU is a neoliberal set-up and therefore not compatible with socialism.

Dominic Davidson, on Facebook

Bosses were always liars

You report that the bosses who made a mess of Southern rail are now saying its the trade unions’ fault (Socialist Worker, 27 June).

They did the same with the shipbuilding industry—ran it into the ground then blamed the unions. We know better these days.

@rattylol, on Twitter


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