Grenfell Tower disaster, Londoners interviewed

Social housing on the London Lancaster West housing estate with the destroyed Grenfell Tower behind

From the World Socialist Web Site, about London, England:

London residents on Grenfell fire: “Heads have got to roll!”

By our reporters

5 July 2017

World Socialist Web Site reporters spoke to residents of the Lancaster West housing estate near Grenfell Tower.

Jane, 16, lives with her parents at Barandon Walk on the Lancaster West housing estate. She explained that since the fire their homes had been without hot water or gas. Her family was left there for two days but is now in emergency accommodation in a nearby hotel.

“I knew a girl in the tower who went to my primary school, but she and her family sadly passed away. I knew some other people in there too, but luckily, they got out.” On the morning after the fire, Jane did her GCSE exams at a local church. “They gave us water, clothes, food. The community came together.”

Complaints about fire safety by residents at Grenfell Tower were common knowledge. “It’s horrible. If people are telling them from a very long time ago that there’s issues—the fire alarms aren’t working, there’s no sprinklers—then as a council you’re responsible. You should be the ones willing to put that in, so we are all safe. It’s like they knew this was going to happen, like they wanted it to happen. I still can’t believe it to this day—I can’t look at the building.

Rich people never liked this building. It doesn’t look good. I think they just planned it to be honest—to move us all out of the area, because it’s a rich borough. But we’re a strong community. They’re not going to be able to do it. We’ll stick together and we’ll fight.”

None of the residents WSWS reporters spoke to believe the official death toll, and Jane said the number of lives lost was likely “in the hundreds”. “The way that fire was going—all of them are dead. The fire went up so fast I don’t think anyone could have escaped. More than 80 people lost their lives. Way more.”

Jane described how fire engines had trouble gaining access to the tower when the fire broke out. “The road near Grenfell Tower is really narrow and tight, and because there were already cars parked there, the fire trucks were too big, so they couldn’t easily go through to help. The space around Grenfell Tower is very compact—there’s the park, the school, the leisure centre. It’s all very close, so there was nowhere to go.”

People waited to be rescued while the tower burned, but there was no equipment to save them. “If you’re building towers like this, you should fund the fire brigade to have equipment. But they don’t want to waste money on us. If it was rich people, they’d do it straight away. Without a doubt.”

Vanessa agreed: “To be honest, the government—I don’t think they care about us at all. What they’re trying to do is social cleansing. They don’t care about the working class. They’re not helping in any way. The only people who have actually helped is the community getting together, opening services. The government doesn’t care about us and they’re never going to care about us.

“We’re not like the rich people. They’re trying to social cleanse this entire area of the working class so that foreign buyers, whose properties cost millions, can move in. They know the working class don’t have the money to buy those properties. We need to stop that. It’s not right. Where’s everyone going to end up?”

Reporters showed Jane and Vanessa a WSWS video of a resident of the city of Flint in the United States speaking about the Grenfell fire.

This 28 June 2017 video from the USA is called Flint autoworker to London workers: “You have the right to a home!”

Flint’s population has suffered for years the devastating consequences of a scheme to build a new water pipeline. State and local officials switched the city’s water supply to the polluted Flint River, even though the city’s antiquated water treatment plant was unable to make the water safe.

Jane said, “That’s terrible. Just like she’s saying to us that we’ve got to rise up, they’ve got to rise up too.”

Davide and Federica

Davide Prevarin and Federica Silvi live on Barandon Walk, and like other residents they have been without gas and hot water since the fire.

“The advice from the local council is to go to the gym to get a shower, and it’s been nearly three weeks,” Davide said. “There’s no other support. There were some policemen today asking if we need any support—but they had absolutely no information to tell us and couldn’t help in any way, except giving us some leaflets.”

For the first two days after the fire, police prevented residents from entering their homes to pick up clothes or other basic items. “We were lucky, we stayed with friends, but I can only imagine that for people who don’t have anyone to rely on, how difficult it must have been.”

Both were home on the night of the fire. “Firefighters were rushing to the scene, and the people on the streets were shouting because they could see that there were people moving inside their flats and using their phones as flashlights to make their presence seen. You could actually hear people screaming from the tower.

“The fire was just a bit on the one side of the building, just on the right, but within half an hour it spread to the rest of the tower, and at that point it started to be really, really strong. At about two or three in the morning we decided to leave because we didn’t know if it was going to be safe, and no one was saying anything. And still when we returned we didn’t know whether it was going to collapse.”

“All we had was the BBC web site and the updates posted there,” Silvi said, “because there was absolutely no one from the Council around here. The police knew nothing.”

Asked about the deadly conditions in the building—no sprinklers, no central fire alarm, the installation of cheap, flammable cladding to save costs—Davide said, “That’s the typical excuse that they give. ‘Oh, it’s red tape, all these regulations—let’s get rid of the regulations to make business flourish’.

“And then you get this. These regulations are written in blood. And then after 10 or 15 years they’ll say, ‘These regulations are stopping business, we can’t develop as we want, so let’s get rid of that’… until another tragedy happens.

“You can try to elect an MP that is less conservative, and try to form all your committees, you can try all these little solutions, but the biggest problem is that until the system changes then you’ll just have to fight it with your own means, and your means are not enough.”

Eddie Andrews

Eddie Andrews, who lives near to Grenfell Tower said, “Heads have got to roll. From the council, from the government, heads have got to roll for this. Innocent people have died and someone has got to account for that.”

On the public inquiry that Prime Minister Theresa May has announced into the fire, he said, “I don’t trust the government choosing judges. I wouldn’t trust the government to pick a judge and expect the judge to give justice to what I think the people deserve. They should have independent people.”

On the fact that the local Kensington Academy school is covered in the same cladding as that on Grenfell Tower, Eddie said, “How much money did you spend on that? And you’re palming it off like you’re doing something good. If you’ve got money, spend money. That’s why it’s there. It’s there for the people, spend it. You shouldn’t differentiate between rich and poor. People are people regardless of their colour.” Walking away Eddie shouted angrily, “But heads have got to roll!”

By Robert Stevens in Britain:

Three weeks after the Grenfell inferno: Official cover-up and callous indifference

5 July 2017

Three weeks after the Grenfell Tower inferno in west London, the initial shock and horror at the huge loss of life has given way to seething anger. The intervening period has only underscored the ruling elite’s callous contempt for the traumatised survivors of the fire and the working class as a whole.

In the early hours of Wednesday, June 14, a small fire in a fourth-floor apartment in the Grenfell residential tower block rapidly became a raging inferno, engulfing the entire 24-storey building. The tower housed some 600 residents, many of whom had no chance of escape.

The building housed workers and poor people living in one of the most deprived areas of the UK, situated at the same time in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the wealthiest district in London. Nothing could more starkly sum up the colossal growth of social inequality not only in Britain, but internationally. The burnt-out husk of Grenfell stands within a stone’s throw of “ghost” homes worth many millions that have never been occupied by their owners. It is only a few miles from Buckingham Palace.

The building was a death trap. There was no sprinkler system, no central fire alarm system and just one stairwell, which quickly became filled with highly toxic fumes. The fire spread so rapidly because the building was wrapped from top to bottom in flammable cladding material, which emitted deadly hydrogen cyanide. The toxic covering had been installed to provide a more pleasant view for the rich residents nearby and keep real estate values high.

When firefighters arrived to tackle the blaze, they were unable to deal with it due to poor access to the building and inadequate equipment and manpower. The Fire Brigade nationally has suffered devastating cuts over the last decade, with 11,000 firefighter jobs lost. Former London mayor and now Tory Foreign Minister Boris Johnson bears major responsibility for Grenfell, having closed 10 fire stations, withdrawn 14 fire engines and cut 522 firefighter jobs during his tenure.

The Grenfell fire was not simply a disaster or tragedy, it was a crime.

Today, three weeks later, it is still unknown to survivors, family members and friends and the public how many people perished in the blaze. The true fatality figure is being concealed by the government out of fear of a social explosion. But the silence of the authorities can only mean that the death toll is appallingly high.

The Metropolitan Police say the 80 acknowledged to have died came mainly from 23 flats, yet there were 129 flats in the building. As of Tuesday evening, rescue teams had still not accessed the top three floors of the building, where it is understood that almost all of the occupants perished. The police say it will take well into next year before any accurate figure can be arrived at.

The survivors of the inferno and people forced to evacuate their housing in the tower’s immediate vicinity have met with inhumane treatment from the authorities. Just £5 million have been offered by the government to Grenfell survivors, with less than half of this distributed so far.

Despite Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May‘s pledge that all survivors would be temporarily rehoused in the borough within three weeks, virtually nobody has been rehoused. Instead, entire families are being forced to sleep in hotels, with some sleeping rough in cars and parks.

Behind the crocodile tears of the government and borough council at the death and destruction at Grenfell, their real attitude was summed up last week when they banned survivors, local residents and the media from attending the first meeting of the council to be held since the fire. The since-resigned Tory council leader, Nick Paget-Brown, insisted that to allow the public entry would “likely result in disorder.”

Grenfell Tower was hardly unique. Testing on 181 tower blocks out of 600 identified as potentially covered in highly flammable material met with a 100 percent failure rate. Even after the Grenfell inferno, it is reported that the unsafe cladding may not be removed. According to the BBC, an “Independent Advisory Panel” set up by the government after the fire “said it would ask experts whether the material could stay on a building ‘under certain approved circumstances.’”

The ruling elite is perpetrating a massive cover-up. Not a single person has been charged or arrested in a supposed “criminal investigation” ongoing since June 15.

The public inquiry into the fire announced by May has already been exposed as a fraud. As with every other such inquiry held in response to a loss of life at the hands of the state, it will do nothing to establish the truth or bring the guilty to justice. The judge selected to chair it, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, let the cat out of the bag when he said the inquiry could be “limited to the cause, how it spread, and preventing a future blaze.”

Three weeks after the event, the historical and global significance of Grenfell is becoming ever more clear. It will not be forgotten. It will be seen by historians in the future as a significant turning point, fuelling the growth of anti-capitalist, socialist and revolutionary sentiment in the working class and the resurgence of class struggle.

For masses of workers in Britain and internationally, their own lives will be divided into before and after Grenfell.

The Grenfell fire is a crime of capitalism. The Socialist Equality Party insists those implicated in political and corporate circles must be immediately arrested, charged and put on trial. The mass requisitioning of accommodation must be organised to house those made homeless and denied access to their homes because of lack of heating, hot water and gas. Hundreds of billions of pounds must be allocated to strip the cladding from unsafe tower blocks, and a mass public works programme enacted to make all public buildings safe. This must be paid for through the expropriation of the billionaires and the nationalization of the building industry and the banks under workers’ control.

The protests of residents in London against Kensington and Chelsea Council and the government over Grenfell and the sympathy and solidarity this has elicited among millions internationally is indicative of the new stage in the class struggle.

Following the Grenfell Tower inferno in London on June 14, politicians and officials responsible for construction in Germany boasted that such a catastrophe could not happen here due to the strict safety guidelines and building regulations. That was a lie. Less than two weeks after the London disaster, on June 27, 72 inhabitants of an apartment building in Wuppertal in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) were forced to leave their homes in a hurry. The building was evacuated because it had a similar facade to Grenfell Tower: here.

SEP Australia public meetings. The Grenfell Tower disaster: A crime against the working class: here.

6 thoughts on “Grenfell Tower disaster, Londoners interviewed

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