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One year on – the Grenfell Tower fire is a symbol of a world built for the rich

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Issue 2608
The Grenfell Tower fire exposed how the authorities and our rulers hold working class people in contempt
The Grenfell Tower fire exposed how the authorities and our rulers hold working class people in contempt (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The fire at Grenfell Tower is a symbol of decades of attacks on working class people.

At least 72 people died as a result of deregulation, the downgrading of council housing, fire service cuts and contempt for working class people’s cries of protest.

These are symptoms of a society organised by the rich and in the interests of the rich.

Each time a cut was forced through, each time someone was ignored when they raised concerns, an atrocity like the fire at Grenfell Tower became more and more likely.

All of these factors were amplified by racism.

That is why the protestations of different parties at the inquiry that they were not responsible ring hollow.

From the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government all the way down to the subcontractors, they all knew what they were doing.

Crucial health and safety legislation was seen simply as inconvenient red tape to be ripped up and quietly disposed of.

Social housing was an eyesore to be covered up. And working class lives were cheap.

Now Theresa May tells us that she will “always regret” not meeting survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire immediately afterwards. “The initial response was not good enough,” she said on Monday. “I include myself in that,” she added, trying to pre-empt criticism.

And Tory housing secretary James Brokenshire claimed to be “very concerned” about the number of Grenfell survivors still in hotels.

Such empty claims are absolutely worthless.

As the fire took hold of Grenfell Tower, and images were broadcast across the world, the people responsible for it were “very concerned”—about covering their backs.


The way survivors have been treated has exposed the rank hypocrisy that lies at the heart of the capitalist state.

While Tories insist they are doing everything they can to rehouse people, the Sutton Estate in the south of the borough lies empty and waiting for the bulldozers.

The Grenfell Tower was horrific in a unique way—a symbol of the vast inequality in the richest local authority in Britain.

But it could also have happened anywhere, and could still happen elsewhere without real change.

The Marxist Frederick Engels wrote about the worst forms of working class housing in 1872.

“It is perfectly clear that the existing state is neither able nor willing to do anything to remedy the housing difficulty. The state is nothing but the organised collective power of the possessing classes, the landowners and the capitalists as against the exploited classes, the peasants and the workers.

“What the individual capitalists do not want, their state also does not want.”

The responsibility for the crimes of Grenfell rests not just with the Tories and the bosses of the firms involved. It is a system that puts profits before people that is ultimately to blame.

Grenfell is not some great exception to capitalist rule. It is a particularly sharp example of business as usual.

Our sorrow and rage over Grenfell should be a spur to end the system of class division that produced it.

‘Social murder’ of capitalism

Frederick Engels, writing in 1845 in The Condition of the Working Class in England, said that by creating the disease-ridden hovels in industrial cities such as Manchester the ruling class were guilty of “social murder”.

Engels wrote, “When society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; when it knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to remain, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual.”

Grenfell has rightly intensified the subversive sense that what we face is not just a series of disconnected horrors but a system that produces wealth for some and hardship for most.

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