Five years on from the disastrous fire at Grenfell, justice still seems very far away for the victims of this tragedy and their families.
Far from providing justice, the ongoing inquiry is shedding light on the litany of failures by those responsible for this catastrophe, and the motives behind them.
From ignoring coroner reports, to cutting costs on safety measures, to showing utter contempt for working-class people: it is as clear as day that the Grenfell disaster was an almost-inevitable product of the corrupt, greed-ridden capitalist system.
Another Grenfell therefore awaits. Indeed, similar fires have occurred in the last year – such as the fire at a tower block in Canary Wharf, London, which even had the same cladding as that at Grenfell.
The inquiry has heard evidence from the Tory government, as well as accounts of the events that took place in the immediate aftermath of the fire.
We’ve heard that the council (the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, RBKC) was lacking personnel on the ground. Instead, rest centres were set up and managed by community volunteers.
RBKC was completely unprepared for an emergency and refused to ask for help. It repeatedly turned down offers of support from neighbouring councils, fearing that doing so would invite ‘scrutiny and oversight’. Top council officials considered it would make them look like they ‘couldn’t cope’.
Survivors were left sleeping under the Westway flyover for 10 days. Others were housed in unsuitable hotels, with large families sharing a room, forced to move shelter everyday.
People who had lost absolutely everything in the fire – left only with the clothes they were wearing on the night of the fire – were rejected for state benefits. Some survivors were eventually paid the smallest hardship fund amount: a measly £500, or even just £100. Others had their claims rejected altogether.
This all happened in a borough filled with empty houses belonging to the rich. These remained empty, whilst the residents of Grenfell tower and the surrounding area were made homeless.
The only support that RBKC requested on the day of the fire was police support to contain ‘civil unrest’. Council leaders warned of “community tension”, blaming “agitators and troublemakers”.
Instead of the material support required following the fire, what was provided was the policeman’s baton. Survivors had immediate need for financial and emotional support; for safe and adequate shelter. Instead, what they got were armed police patrolling the immediate area.
In the evidence to the inquiry, we heard testimonials of the bereaved searching for their missing loved ones, only to be met by police commands to move along. The whole area was heavily policed.
All the while, the real criminals – the bosses involved in the deadly refurbishment of Grenfell – were removing any mention of their role from their websites.
An internal email from a civil servant expressed concern that staff at the Kensington and Chelsea tenant management organisation (TMO) were “cleaning computer records”, and were “preoccupied with criminal charges” as they “drifted around” with “no leadership”.
The evidence heard by the inquiry has laid bare the responsibility of the Tory government, and of the former housing minister Eric Pickles, in particular.
Giving evidence to the inquiry, Pickles showed his contempt for the bereaved and the survivors. He immediately insulted the dead, speaking of those “nameless, 96 who lost their lives”. In fact, 72 people died – and each of them has a name.
They might be nameless to Pickles and the rest of the criminals responsible for Grenfell. But they are remembered by us and our movement.
Pickles acts with such disrespect and disregard, knowing that the inquiry will not provide justice.
For decades, New Labour and Tory governments ignored repeated warnings about the risk of cladding fires and the lack of clear regulations.
The government department for housing even pulled the funding for an investigation into the Lakanal House fire in Camberwell, London, which killed six and injured over twenty people in 2009.
The recommendations from the Lakanal coroner report were also ignored. In an internal email, senior civil servant Brian Martin stated that safety improvements were “essentially pointless”.
Warnings were continually ignored and dismissed. Calls to clarify regulation were responded to with demands of “show me the bodies”.
And why was this done? Because regulation and ‘red tape’ were seen as the enemy of ‘enterprise’ and ‘innovation’, and the government feared the reaction of industry. Building safety regulations, in other words, were seen as just another pesky barrier to the profits of the capitalists.
Following the 2008 financial crisis, the response of the Tory-Liberal coalition government was to roll back regulations – or just ignore them – in order to make it easier for developers to cut corners. Fire safety was just another barrier to ‘enterprise’.
Even a fire test commissioned by the government’s housing department all the way back in 2001 showed that ACM [aluminium composite material] cladding was flammable and dangerous. Yet the results were never published publicly. No one in the government wanted to hear it.
The Tories still haven’t implemented the recommendations of the Grenfell phase one report. Housing secretary Michael Gove has said he’ll do “whatever it takes” to make sure developers cover cladding costs. But the inquiry has not changed the situation one iota.
As long as the ruling class are in charge of the inquiry, it is unlikely that anyone will face prison time for the social murder that was the Grenfell fire. Ultimately, they cannot be trusted to deliver justice. The rich and powerful will always protect their own.
For this reason, the struggle for genuine justice lies hand-in-hand with the task facing the working class: to smash the economic and political power of the capitalists and their lackeys in the state.
This means kicking out this criminal Tory government, and expropriating the big property developers and landlords.
Only the fight for socialism can achieve true justice for Grenfell, and prevent another disaster from happening again.