YESTERDAY, the London Fire Brigade’s (LFB) commissioner, Dany Cotton, announced that she was resigning from her post four months early.
Cotton came under sustained criticism from phase one of the public inquiry into the Grenfell fire tragedy, which found that the LFB’s preparations for such a fire were ‘gravely inadequate’.
When this first report of the inquiry was published, Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) responded saying, ‘Grenfell Tower was a deathtrap before any firefighter arrived.’
The resignation of Cotton in no way addresses the central issue so tragically brought home by the deaths of 72 men, women and children, namely that the inferno raged out of control because of the cheap flammable cladding.
That cladding was installed by the Tory council whose only concern was to keep the ‘refurbishment’ as cheap as possible, with no regard for safety or the lives of workers and their families forced to live in what was turned from a safe building into a deathtrap.
Two and a half years on from Grenfell and nothing has been resolved to prevent another tragedy. In October, it was revealed that across England a total of 321 high rise tower blocks and publicly owned buildings were still clad in the same inflammable material while the Tory government refused to ban the use of this material for any new blocks being built if they are under 18 metres tall.
Only last month, a student accommodation block in Bolton was engulfed in flames and an examination carried out by scientists discovered that it was clad in material even more inflammable than that used on Grenfell.
In the immediate aftermath of this blaze, the FBU called for forums to be set up of firefighters, tenants, government, fire safety and housing specialists to ensure ‘the lessons learned from the first phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry are put into practice.’
What is clear is that the only thing that the Tory government put into practice was to massively cut the fire service under its austerity regime, cuts that have seen thousands of firefighter jobs gone and scores of fire stations closed down.
In London alone at the time of Grenfell, 10 fire stations had been closed by the Tories, 27 fire engines axed and over 600 firefighter posts cut. They haven’t stopped in the two and a half years on from Grenfell.
Last month, Surrey FBU branch balloted their members on industrial action to start on 24 December after they had exhausted all other avenues to prevent dangerous cuts to the fire and rescue service.
The cuts, approved in September by Surrey County Council, include removing seven fire engines at night and cutting 70 firefighter jobs.
Surrey has seen the steepest rise in fire deaths for over a decade with staff shortages meaning local fire engines have been unavailable to respond to emergency calls over the last year and forced to rely on crews from neighbouring counties to attend, resulting in slower response times in emergencies.
Urging a Yes vote for industrial action, FBU leader Wrack said: ‘It is utterly scandalous that further cuts are being made to fire services after the Grenfell Tower report. It seems those in power are willing to learn absolutely nothing about the risk of fire.’
Those in power – the Tories, the councils and the building industry – have no intention of learning anything. Their sole concern is to cut spending by slashing jobs and services and keeping the profits up for the construction companies.
No amount of joint ‘forums’ with them will do anything but provide a meaningless talking shop.
What is required is for the working class to take over by bringing in a workers government that will expropriate the banks and the major industries, abolish these county councils and replace them with workers councils.
These councils, or soviets, will decide on what is safe, what is required to ensure the safety and health of workers and their families and moreover will have the power to oversee the implementation of what is necessary, so that the work is carried out immediately.
Only the working class taking power and establishing a workers state that puts the health and safety of the working class first by going forward to socialism can prevent another Grenfell tragedy.