THE fire that spread like an inferno through the Grenfell Tower block early Wednesday morning has claimed the lives of at least 17 people so far with the death toll expected to rise dramatically as work begins to sift through the remains of the 24-storey council owned flats.
It was a fire that was all too predictable as it emerges that numerous warnings were given by residents that the block was a death trap and that a tragedy was just waiting to happen. All these warnings, to both Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council, who own the flats, and the private movement group paid to administer Grenfell and other council properties in the area, were ignored according to the residents action group.
Last November the Grenfell Action Group (GAG) wrote on its website: ‘Unfortunately, the Grenfell Action Group have reached the conclusion that only an incident that results in serious loss of life of KCTMO (Kensington and Chelsea Tenancy Management Organisation) residents will allow the external scrutiny to occur that will shine a light on the practices that characterise the malign governance of this non-functioning organisation…
‘It is our conviction that a serious fire in a tower block or similar high density residential property is the most likely reason that those who wield power at the KCTMO will be found out and brought to justice!’
In March this year a local councillor, Judith Blakeman, who sits on the board of KCTMO, raised residents’ fears over gas pipes being installed in main stairwells only to be told they would be boxed in with ‘fire-rated’ material.
According to Blakeman they were never boxed in and an independent safety adjudication of the building was rejected. Blakeman said: ‘I was treated like I was a nuisance. I raised 19 complaints on behalf of individual residents. Every single time we were told that the board had satisfied itself that the fire safety was fine.’
David Collins from the residents action group had the same story to tell, saying: ‘I spoke to councillors and they refused to investigate. They wouldn’t believe that the residents were concerned. Ninety per cent of residents signed an independent petition asking for there to be an investigation into the organisation that runs this building because they were so incompetent. And the council turned it down.’
It’s not just the Tory-run local borough or the private management company that ‘administers’ council properties that treat the safety of working people with contempt – it goes right to the top of the Tory government.
This week Theresa May appointed as her new chief of staff the former Tory housing minister Gavin Barwell. It was Barwell who refused to carry out a review of fire regulations for tower blocks after a coroner at an inquest in 2013 into the deaths of six people in a tower block fire in Camberwell in 2009 had demanded that all high rise buildings should be fitted retrospectively with sprinkler systems. This ruling was turned down by the Tories.
Kensington and Chelsea, the richest borough in the country, did not fit sprinklers in its high-rise flats, sprinklers that would have delayed the spread of the fire and might even have extinguished it at the start. The brutal truth is that for the Tories spending money on protecting the lives of ordinary working people and their families is wasted money.
Instead they have relentlessly pursued policies to cut safety regulations that cut into the profits of the privateers and cut back on the essential services like the Fire Brigade which has seen ten fire stations closed in London since 2014.
The appalling tragedy at Grenfell flats was the inevitable result of a Tory government and Tory local councils who have cut health and safety regulations to the bone in order to save money regardless of the cost in lives to workers and the poor.
The hatred felt by the residents of these high-rise flats in West London towards the Tories, who place profit above lives, will be shared by the entire working class. Immediately that hatred must be translated into a mass campaign of demonstrations and strikes to demand that the Tories be kicked out for good and replaced by a Labour government pledged to socialist policies!