After Grenfell Tower, more British fire disasters?


Tudor Court in Bradford, England

By Liz Smith in England:

Residents in Bradford, England: “We are all affected by what has happened at Grenfell

22 July 2017

Bradford Council announced last Friday that a sample of external cladding taken from Landmark House, a seven-storey building in the northern city of Bradford, failed government fire safety tests.

The city centre building contains 91 apartments. A number of commercial units have also had cladding removed.

Landmark House is not being evacuated, but hourly patrols have been put in place—not by qualified fire officers, according to the West Yorkshire Fire Service, but “appropriately trained” security officers.

The leader of the Labour-run council, Susan Hinchcliffe, said, “We have been advised that there is no need to immediately evacuate the premises. … the Department for Communities and Local Government confirm that we are acting in accordance with their guidance and they are satisfied with the action being taken.”

One resident told the local Telegraph & Argus, “I noticed when they took the piece of cladding off, it was just like cardboard or brown wrapping paper, that’s all that was behind it. It’s taken a disaster for something like this to be done.”

Reporters from the World Socialist Web Site spoke to John, who has lived there since 2003. He said that many residents in Landmark House were Asian or eastern European and any information letters produced for the tenants should be in their own language. He noted that in Grenfell Tower 46 victims had been found in one room. They were all one nationality and he guessed they had congregated together for mutual support. John said that there should have been notices in the various languages spoken in the block so everyone was aware of what they needed to do in a fire.

Reporters also spoke to workers who lived in the high-rise flats situated at the bottom of Manchester Road. Built in the late 1960s as part of a massive expansion of social housing to replace slums, the flats were initially coveted as the place to live. Following the oil crisis in 1973 and the subsequent hike in electricity prices, workers who lived there faced considerable debt. Many had no choice but to stop using the under-floor heating systems installed, which then caused widespread damp.

Things have worsened ever since. In 2003, as part of the privatisation moves of the Blair Labour government, all council-owned housing was transferred to Incommunities, an arms-length social housing company which owns and is responsible for tower blocks such as Douglas and Evans Towers, 15-storeys high, and the Courts, which are all 12 storeys.

John, who lives in Windsor Court, said, “What really irks me about what has happened at Grenfell is you have the Archbishop of Canterbury commenting on it. But where was he before? Has he walked around there? Has he heck! Putting people back into flats that have just had such a traumatic experience. They would have been better off asking me to sort it out!”

John explained, “Recently we had a lot of problems with kids setting off alarms, smoking in stairwells, etc. So what Incommunities did was to take out the fire alarms from the apartments, in the kitchen or near the kitchen, because it was costing them too much money for callouts. Instead of tackling the actual issue of the children or the people setting them off, or educating people, they decided to take them away instead because it’s cheaper. But my rent has not gone down.

“I work and it’s very high rents round here. It’s social housing, but it is £105 a week. They have been trying to get me out. I have been in and out of work. I had four jobs in one year. I need two bedrooms because I have my children on a weekend.

“I don’t have to pay bedroom tax now [a penalty on claimants in an “under-occupied” council home] because I am working. But when I am not working I do, and I then have no money to feed the children on a weekend. They did it to satisfy the middle class, who don’t understand.

“This is not a bad place to live. I just wish people would stop driving past thinking we are all scum. I know lots of people in there that help people out. The working class club together more. They look after each other.”

David, who lives in Evans Towers, described the dangers of living in the block:

“If you go on every single landing and look at the fire doors they have all got gaps under them. The fire brigade was parked up the other day—an open day where you could go and speak to them. I told the fireman about the gaps under the fire doors. He told me they should be flush or have rubber sills. The fire door is there to prevent fumes getting out. He asked me if I had reported it. I told him I had, but had been no response yet.

“The wind that comes through the windows blows them open a good inch in winter, when there are high winds. It can take two people to even close the window and if you call them out and it is deemed to be not an emergency they charge you £80.

“The fire engines can only get to the seventh floor. I am at the twelfth floor. And when I get a shower you are lucky if you get a trickle out sometimes.

“We pay for a concierge and for each flat that’s £10.80 a week. The concierge is based in Ravenscliffe (4 miles away). It’s a complete waste of money. If you ring up he says, ‘There is nothing I can do. I am not allowed to leave the office. All I can suggest is that you or I ring the police.’ Part of that £10.80 each flat pays goes to the retirement scheme for Incommunities directors. So because a lot of people are unemployed the taxpayer is paying this. They have flats all over Bradford and elsewhere, all contributing.

“Just think if you are a full-time worker in Bradford paying tax and you knew that part of that money was going to pay Geraldine Howley, chief group executive for Incommunities retirement scheme!”

Some of the smaller blocks near the towers are being demolished. “These are all getting knocked down by Incommunities,” David said. “On the land here they are rebuilding a small estate—multi-bedroomed occupancies with three, four, five, six bedrooms—owned by Incommunities. They know it is going to get funded by the government, because who around here can afford a six-bedroom house?

“People living here are all being moved out. The ones that are still living here are mortgage holders—about two in each block. The people that moved out got paid about £6,000 each and a free move. They kept it at £6,000 because, above that, you have to declare it and you could lose benefits. The taxpayer will be basically paying the rent.

“A few months ago gale force winds blew a lot of the cladding off that was damaged. They have had to replace the cladding, but since the Grenfell fire there has not been a person [living] there and that had been put up has been taken off!”

Socialist Equality Party campaigners spoke to these and many other workers about attending the July 30 public meeting, Grenfell Fire—Social Murder: A crime against the working class. Expressing her support for this appraisal, Jane, a shop worker , said, “We should be protesting outside the town hall as we are all affected by what has happened at Grenfell. It ’s us and them and things have to change.”

United States air force kills Afghan police allies


This 19 September 2016 video is called 8 Afghan police killed in US airstrikes in Uruzgan.

Now, another year (this year) and another province.

According to a CNN report today, the United States air force has killed Afghan police allies. Dutch NOS TV says that the United States bombs killed at least twelve policemen in Helmand province.

Justice for London Grenfell Tower demanded


Some of the protesting Grenfell Tower survivors outside Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall in London, England

By Paul Mitchell in London, England:

Council condemned for “disgusting” treatment of Grenfell fire survivors

21 July 2017

Hundreds of protesters demanding justice for those killed in the Grenfell fire, including survivors, protested outside Kensington Town Hall Wednesday evening as representatives of the Kensington and Chelsea Council sat in full session for the first time since the June 14 inferno.

Protesters brought homemade banners with slogans including, “Justice for Grenfell—We Demand the Truth.” A large banner read, in reference to the Conservative-run council, “The Royal Murderers of Kensington and Chelsea” (the area is a royal borough).

A heavy police and security guard presence was mobilised outside and inside the council hall, part of moves by council officials to try to ensure that as few as possible would be able to enter and observe proceedings.

Last month, then Conservative council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown attempted to ban survivors, local residents and the media from attending the first meeting of the council to be held since the fire. Paget-Brown insisted that to allow the public entry would “likely result in disorder” and closed the meeting down within minutes.

The latest attempt to silence growing hostility to the council and police—who continued to drip-feed information about their “criminal investigation”—was opposed by protesters who demanded that more survivors be allowed in.

The public gallery of the council chamber was packed with about 70 survivors and an additional room was set aside for another 150 people from the local community. They spoke of the “disgusting” treatment being meted out to the “forgotten” survivors of the fire.

The meeting saw Elizabeth Campbell formally elected as council leader, following the resignation of Paget-Brown last month. Shouts of “Murderers,” “Shame on you” and “Resign” echoed from the public gallery as councillors raised their hands in support of her appointment. One survivor, Mahad Egal, described the inhumane treatment of survivors by the council since the fire and told Campbell, “You’ve let the dead down. Now you’re going to come for the living … step down and resign.”

Campbell could hardly be heard and had to stop several times as she declared, “We meet at a time of unimaginable grief and sorrow. The Grenfell fire is the biggest civilian disaster in this country for a generation. … I am truly sorry that we did not do more to help you when you needed it the most.”

These are crocodile tears. During her time as Cabinet Member for Family and Children’s Services (May 2013 to May 2017), Campbell oversaw a one-third cut in the department’s budget, which included the axing of after-school and holiday care for the most vulnerable children.

She employed similar insincere, scripted words following the disastrous cost-cutting exercise involving the outsourcing of school transport in 2014, declaring, “It is upsetting that so many have had cause for complaint. We are driving very hard to bring things up to the expected standard and nothing short of that will be acceptable.” She added, “I want to apologise to those service users who have been affected and hope they will recognise that our intentions are honourable.”

Due to the anger and outrage of residents at the council, Labour Party opposition leader Robert Atkinson put on a left face—repeating the call for commissioners to take over the running of the council, which the Labour Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad branded “not fit for purpose.”

Several motions proposed by councillors were due to be discussed, including a petition by more than 1,500 people for the entire leadership of Kensington and Chelsea Council to resign.

…..

Behind Campbell’s handwringing, the council’s contempt for the survivors of Grenfell and local residents is revealed in the fact that only a fifth of the survivors have been temporarily rehoused. Despite Campbell acknowledging that the council, located in the wealthiest area of London, has a spending reserve of £274 million, she said that just 400 social houses will be acquired or built in the borough in the next five years, the equivalent of 80 a year.

Campbell and the other Tory councillors refused to stand down and, under conditions of a local and national crisis, began an extended summer’s vacation with the full council not scheduled to meet again until October 25.

A number of survivors and other local residents were allowed to address the meeting.

An Iranian woman held up the key to her 10th floor Grenfell Tower flat as she declared, “I’m here to represent those who died innocently and they are powder now—the bodies’ powder. And those survivors who are burning inside themselves … nobody hears them and nobody listens to them.

“They say they understand us but the truth of the matter is they don’t. Every time I look at this key I ask, what is the difference between us human beings? Why do you judge people because of what they’ve got—their wealth? Why don’t you care about human beings right here?”

A woman who said her young niece had died in the fire explained that members of her family were unable to speak in public because “their pain is too huge” and that councillors should be “embarrassed” by their “totally inadequate” response.

She was backed up by several Grenfell residents who recounted the terrible treatment they have received since the fire. One said he had been consigned to a hotel room with just one double bed for him, his wife and three children. “I was forgotten about” by the authorities, he explained. “You know who’s done something for us? The residents of north Kensington. Our community. Our neighbours.”

Another said the way the fire victims’ families had been treated was “disgusting,” declaring, “We’ve been swept under the carpet.”

One man said the families of the deceased “are being treated like cattle.”

The ongoing trauma suffered by the local population was evident as the meeting ended abruptly due to a resident, who had just finished speaking, collapsing to the ground. According the Evening Standard, “A female companion said that she had collapsed multiple times since the fire.”

Anthony, North Kensington resident

From the World Socialist Web Site in London, England:

Protesters at Kensington and Chelsea council meeting: “This has been a massive crime and they all seem to be getting away with it”

By our reporters

21 July 2017

World Socialist Web Site reporters spoke to a number of those protesting outside the meeting.

Anthony, a local resident who knew several of those who perished in the fire, said that firefighters faced major obstacles that prevented a prompt response and which contributed to the fire getting out of control. He said, “The fire service got there in six minutes. It sounds good, six minutes, but when did they first deploy their hoses? When they got there, also, how many got there?

“What stage was the fire at? When they thought they had put the fire out, they couldn’t get to see the other side of the building was on fire. Why?

“The reason is because of the so-called Academy [school] that was built on the car park. That was the car park for Grenfell Tower. Also, it was the assembly point for the people of Grenfell Tower in case there ever was a fire. Basically they got a call about a fire and got there and realised a school is in the way. There’s all these delays that put them towards their deaths. There was only space for two fire engines in one small corner near the tower. Every second counts in a fire. Then there was also no [tall] ladder.

“When they got to the building did they go upstairs to reassure people that it’s safe and say, ‘We’re going to put the fire out?’ Or did they go on a mission to say ‘Let’s evacuate, let’s evacuate,’ knowing that there are no sprinklers, no adequate fire safety system, no evacuation procedure?”

Asked who he thought should be held responsible, Anthony said, “The TMO [Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation—who ran Grenfell Tower on behalf of management] is responsible and no one have been brought to book. Nobody has been arrested at all. This has been a massive crime and they all seem to be getting away with it. We have to make sure they don’t and we will make sure they don’t.”

A resident who managed to escape from Grenfell Tower said, “When we went into the council chambers they locked the door behind us to stop other people coming in. We’ve been in this tower block and a lot of people couldn’t escape and we are suffering trauma from this. And now they are locking us in this room!”

Alan, who lived on the 15th floor of Grenfell Tower, said, “We won’t give up. They need to admit what they have done and give up. We are going to continue doing this until we find the truth. We are going to beat them. We won’t stop. We are one voice and we need justice for people who lost their life.

“We didn’t have any voice in the council meeting. We are speaking here but nothing is happening. I don’t care about accommodation. What I care about is justice for people who lost their lives. I care about people who are going to die tomorrow in another town because of them. What is happening is so wrong.”

Alan said that he had tried to contact Labour Party mayor Sadiq Khan about the campaign for justice for the victims of the Grenfell fire but had received no response. He said “I sent email to Sadiq Khan three weeks ago and called him twice. I was cut off.”

She was speaking to News Line during the mass demonstration outside the Kensington and Chelsea Council meeting in which new Tory council leader Elizabeth Campbell was called a ‘murderer’ and told to immediately resign by survivors of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Furious survivors of the fire and relatives of those who had perished pushed their way into the Kensington council meeting on Wednesday night and took it over. Outside the meeting Zoe Bernard continued: ‘My uncle died in the fire. Whatever they do won’t bring back the lives of those who died. The damage has been done. ‘We need a council that acts in the interests of ordinary people, not one that’s for the rich’: here.

Fire risk in most New Zealand high-rise buildings: here.

Equal prayers for Jewish women in Israel?


This 20 July 2017 video is a satiric animated cartoon from the Women of the Wall movement in Israel.

It says about itself:

Bibi froze The Wall

Give us a couple of minutes, and we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the Kotel Agreement, and make you laugh in the process.

It is about Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu reneging on an earlier plan to give women more praying rights at the Kotel (Western wall) in Jerusalem.

London Grenfell Tower survivors rehoused unsafely


This 15 June 2017 video from London, England is called [London rapper and poet] Akala blames Grenfell Tower fire on neo-liberal capitalism.

By Lamiat Sabin in Britain:

Survivors ‘being blackmailed’ into unsafe homes

Friday 21st July 2017

SURVIVORS of the Grenfell Tower fire are “almost being blackmailed” into accepting temporary homes that are unsafe and unsuitable.

Residents are being told that they will be made “intentionally homeless” if they refuse offers by the Tory-run Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council despite government assurances that this would not occur, shadow housing secretary John Healey told the Commons yesterday.

Conservative MP Bob Blackman said the threats were akin to blackmail.

Mr Healey told Communities Secretary Sajid Javid that 169 families lost their homes following the fire but only 10 have moved out of emergency hotels and hostels with 25 more offered a temporary home they feel they can accept.

He said: “Residents offered accommodation with damp, leaks and lack of full furnishing, residents shown somewhere with too few bedrooms for their children and residents also being made an offer but then told the details will only follow afterwards.”

Mr Javid replied: “There is a very low level of confidence by the residents, perfectly understandably so, and we see that last night with the local meeting in the council.”

The meeting held by Kensington and Chelsea council on Wednesday night was interrupted by shouts of “resign” and “shame on you” from Grenfell residents in the public gallery.

One resident stood up and shouted: “You’ve let the dead down, now you want to come for the living” as survivors said they had no confidence in the council.

The first meeting with Elizabeth Campbell as newly elected leader had to be called to an early end as a survivor of the disaster collapsed after she finished speaking.

Protesters carrying “Justice for Grenfell” signs gathered outside.

At least 80 people have been confirmed dead after the devastating tower block fire last month. Hundreds more have been displaced or declared “missing” but are believed to have died.

Crowds assemble outside the Kensington Council meeting where Grenfell Tower survivors told the councillors to resign

‘RESIGN AT ONCE!’ – Grenfell Tower survivors tell Kensington Council. TORY council leader Elizabeth Campbell was called a ‘murderer’ and told to immediately resign by survivors of the Grenfell Tower tragedy after they pushed their way into the Kensington council: meeting on Wednesday night: here.

Hundreds of demonstrators demanding justice for the victims of the Grenfell Tower inferno – survivors and relatives of the victims forced their way into the meeting of Kensington and Chelsea Council on Wednesday evening

Hundreds of demonstrators demanding justice for the victims of the Grenfell Tower inferno – survivors and relatives of the victims forced their way into the meeting of Kensington and Chelsea Council on Wednesday evening. ‘TORIES out!’ ‘Resign!’ shouted angry Justice for Grenfell demonstrators on Wednesday night, lobbying the first meeting of Kensington and Chelsea Council since the fire tragedy: here.

London Grenfell Tower survivors demand justice


This 18 July 2017 video from London, England is called Anger erupts at meeting on Grenfell Inferno.

By Robert Stevens in England:

Angry Grenfell survivors and residents berate London police and council officials

20 July 2017

For the second time in a week, anger erupted at a meeting called by Kensington and Chelsea Council and London’s Metropolitan Police.

A meeting Tuesday was held almost five weeks to the day of the June 14 Grenfell fire, with around 150 people gathered at the Notting Hill Methodist church in North Kensington.

The meeting was called by the “Grenfell Response Team,” established by the government and the local council following the fire.

Noticeable by her absence was council leader Elizabeth Campbell, who was denounced by residents last week over the role of the council in creating a death trap of Grenfell Tower and its inhumane treatment of the survivors and local residents in the aftermath.

Speaking on behalf of the Conservative-run council was Barry Quirk, the interim chief executive. There were no representatives from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO)—the arms-length organisation that ran Grenfell Tower on behalf of the council.

Representing the Metropolitan Police was Detective Inspector Simon Fox, who is responsible for the recovery of bodies at the scene. Around a dozen uniformed police officers were dotted around the room creating an intimidating atmosphere.

The attempt by the authorities to try to placate anger by putting some fresh faces onto the platform did not work. Local resident Jacqui Haynes said, “Because of that, they can also get away by saying ‘Oh that wasn’t us, we weren’t there’ or ‘We are looking into what we do now’. What they’ve done is take away the people who are responsible so they don’t have to answer, and they just put in people who can’t answer, because they weren’t there.

Many shouted “liars” as the panel sought to justify their inaction and failure to bring anyone to account for the deaths of at least 80 people. Others shouted that the cabinet of Kensington and Chelsea Council and the police leading the criminal investigation should resign.

The hostility directed at the platform was centred on condemnations of them as representatives of the ruling elite, who only cared about the interests of the rich.

A survivor, Mahad, said that residents of council housing estates in north Kensington, where Grenfell Tower is located, were not “poor or uneducated… We are rich, rich in dignity.” Pointing at the platform he said, “You are dishonouring all of us, traumatising a whole community… You have been put in a position of trust and you have let the people down.”

Opposing the long-term goal of the council to socially cleanse the area of working class residents, he said, “We will look after our children and our future. There’s no way… that you who work for the rich folks are going to push us out of our homes and our community.”

Another woman demanded to know why Campbell was not at the meeting, stating, “I want to know where the leader of the council is… These bloody people suffer all their lives. They work for you lot to get your bloody wages… Why isn’t she here telling us what’s happened?”

Seventeen year old Rihanna described how her eight-year-old nephew was greatly distressed at losing his teacher in the fire: “Growing up in this community, I loved it. But this whole tragedy has made me see that we have no support from you… It’s hard to watch people fall, jump, lose their families.”

Another resident described the Grenfell inferno as “This disgusting thing that has happened to our children and our families. The TMO [Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation] is nowhere to be seen… This isn’t right. It’s the TMO’s fault and the TMO has to sit in the chair in front of all these people and answer the questions. They don’t care about those lives. The government’s going on holiday this week. Yeah, ‘everything’s finished.’ No it won’t finish!”

Residents vented their anger at the fact that only a fraction of the £20 million raised by charities and fundraisers for the victims of the Grenfell fire had been distributed. A BBC report revealed that just £800,000 has been handed to those affected. The Red Cross donated £4.8 million to the London Emergency Trust, who are tasked with distributing the money. However, they have handed over only £158,000 so far to just 16 of the people affected.

Residents spoke out against the callous indifference of the government and local authority to the survivors, who five weeks on have not been rehoused, despite a personal pledge by Prime Minister Theresa May. One audience member said to applause, “When are you going to house them? We know there are people who are booked into hotels until September 1. When are you going to give them housing?”

From the first hours after the Grenfell fire, central and local government did nothing to assist devastated survivors who had lost family members and everything they owned. The local working class community were left to fend for themselves, with other residents nearby forced to step in to provide basic supplies and shelter for the victims. How wide the gulf is between the powers-that-be and residents was demonstrated when an audience member asked every person from the community who had volunteered to help after the fire to stand up. He said, speaking about the council, this is  “every single person who does your job,” as around a third of the room stood up.

The catalogue of crimes committed by the political elite and corporations that resulted in the Grenfell inferno, and which fuels the resentment of residents towards them, continues to grow by the day.

On the day of the meeting, the government revealed that 243 buildings in 57 local authority areas that have cladding similar to that on Grenfell had failed combustibility tests. This represents a 100 percent failure rate. Of these, 235 are high-rise residential towers, a combined school/residential building, another school and six buildings at five National Health Service trusts.

The day after the meeting it emerged that the cladding and insulation that Grenfell was encased in generated the same amount of heat as would burning 51 tonnes of pinewood. According to research carried out on the cladding’s plastic core by the University of Leeds, it would have burned  “as quickly as petrol.”  Planning documents seen by the university revealed that 18 tonnes of insulation foam and eight tonnes of cladding panels were attached to the tower.

The uncoordinated and ad hoc removal of dangerous cladding from tower blocks is creating even greater dangers. In many cases, external cladding has been removed from high rises by local authorities only to leave highly combustible insulation exposed. In the city of Salford, combustible insulation has been left exposed for weeks on blocks that house more than 1,000 people.

A fire safety expert, Arnold Tarling, told the Guardian that Pendleton Together Housing—the housing association who run the blocks on behalf of Labour-run Salford Council—had “exposed insulation on the exterior of a building.” This “is not safe because of the risk of the fire spreading over the surface. It doesn’t comply with building regulations… They have guaranteed there is definitely a fire risk.”

Australian governments continue to cover-up unsafe buildings: here.