British class society, from the Titanic to Grenfell Tower

This 14 Juni 2017 video from London, England is an interview with Grenfell Tower action group.

By Solomon Hughes in Britain:

Was Clive Lewis right to call for the burning of neoliberalism?

Friday 23rd June 2017

Giants of Labour have said similar before, writes SOLOMON HUGHES

HOW should Labour MPs respond to the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower?

Labour’s Norwich South MP Clive Lewis put out a short, sharp statement on Twitter: “Burn neoliberalism, not people.”

Some journalists acted shocked. The BBC’s Nick Robinson asked shadow local government secretary Andrew Gwynne if he thought Lewis’s statement was responsible at a time like this.

Other journalists have suggested none of the “great Labour figures” would ever talk like this.

I do think that we have a responsibility to look to political answers to the terrible deaths in the Kensington fire.

This is a chance to turn back the underfunding of social housing; the bullying of tenants; the wearing away of health and safety legislation; the removal of legal aid and all the other cuts and deregulation that contributed to the painful and fearful deaths of scores of children, women and men in our capital city.

We owe a duty to the dead and to the living. All the “this must not happen again” rhetoric is meaningless unless we reverse the political decisions that led to this disaster in the first place.

So we should talk directly, and politically. I’m not sure I would personally choose Lewis’s words, though.

But if we look back, some of the Labour Party’s biggest figures have not held back the difficult questions in the face of disasters.

On April 15 1912, the Ocean Liner Titanic sank after an iceberg ripped into its hull. We now know that this terrible disaster was made much more lethal by the shortage of lifeboats.

We also know that “steerage,” or third-class passengers were more often left to die than first-class passengers.

This 2014 video is called Social class inequality as exhibited by the Titanic.

But that’s not how the newspapers reported it. The Daily Mail spoke of the “perfect heroism of passengers”
According to the Mail: “The men on board had stood aside and had willingly accepted death that women and children might live.”

But we know the true picture of the sacrifice of third-class passengers, thanks to Labour voices.

Ben Tillett, the leader of the then new dockers’ union and one of the giants of the labour movement wrote a letter to the government on the Titanic deaths, based on a union circular, including the following paragraph: “We also offer our strongest protest against the wanton and callous disregard of human life and the vicious class antagonism shown in the practical forbidding of the saving of the lives of the third-class passengers. The refusal to permit other than the first-class passengers to be saved by the boats is, in our opinion, a disgrace to our common civilisation.”

Tillett knew the third-class passengers had been sacrificed. And he didn’t mince his words — this was “vicious class antagonism,” a “disgrace.”

The Daily Mail, like the Nick Robinsons of their time, expressed outrage. It ran an article expressing shock at Tillett’s use of “class antagonism” and claimed he was wrong to say that third-class passengers suffered worse.

Tillett wasn’t cowed. He wrote to the Daily Mail and pointed out the simple facts that “only one-third of the third-class passengers were saved as against two-thirds of the first class. These figures are obvious enough and bear out the statement in our circular.”

As well as telling the Mail not to “travesty the facts,” Tillett pointed out the centrepiece of his original circular was a set of “practical measures” to save lives, like “the provision of adequate life-saving appliances in boats, rafts and belts.” Tillett was angry, but also promoting positive solutions at the same time.

Tillett was not alone. On April 15 1912 a new daily newspaper was launched, the Daily Herald. Backed by Tillett and other trade union and Labour Party figures, this was the first pro-Labour daily paper. It was edited by George Lansbury, another of the giants of the Labour Party.

The Herald’s first articles on the Titanic began to look at the class differences among the deaths. On April 18 the paper reported: “Mr Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line, has been saved … Why is it that so few of the steerage passengers have been saved?”

The White Star Line was the company that ran the ship. By April 26, Lansbury and the Herald had the full story of the scandal of the third-class deaths on the Titanic. Its headline was tough, but true: “Women and children last!”

Lansbury had no problem linking profit-driven business and the deaths of children.

His article said: “They have paid 30 per cent to their shareholders and they have sacrificed 51 per cent of the steerage children. They have gone to sea criminally underequipped with means of life-saving; they have neglected boat drill; they have filled their boat with cooks and valets, with pleasure gardens and luxurious lounges; they have done all this to get big profits and please the first-class passengers.”

Lansbury went on: “And when the catastrophe came, they hastened to get their first-class passengers and their chairman safely away. Fifty-three children remained to die. They were steerage passengers! One hundred and thirty-four women and children were slain. They were steerage passengers.”

Lansbury had no problem saying they were “slain” or “sacrificed.” He also personalised the scandal, on the chairman of the White Star Line, asking: “Where were those 53 steerage children, Mr Ismay, when you saved yourself?”

A hundred years on and we all accept that the shipping line put “glamour” above lifeboats, and that they let third-class children die to save first-class men.

But we only know this because of the firm stand of Labour figures in the past.

The UK’s rich get richer, while the poor get evicted: here.

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