THE TORY government is pushing its Building Safety Bill that it says addresses the big issue of fire safety raised by the horrific Grenfell Tower fire. There are still many thousands of unsafe buildings all over the UK packed with tenants and their children. However, the shameful truth is that this Tory Bill does not address the problems, it just covers them up!
Flammable cladding and insulation, no fire escapes, no sprinklers, dangerous staircases, no smoke extraction systems – buildings across the UK have a litany of safety failures putting millions of lives at risk.
The Bill establishes a Building Safety Regulator (BSR) within the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to implement a ‘new stricter regime’ for any building over four storeys high.
This makes a mockery of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the lives of the 72 men, women and children who burned to death. It also makes a mockery of the millions more who are still living in unsafe buildings, whose lives are at risk, and who go to sleep not knowing if they will die in a fire during the night.
The Building Safety Regulator has the authority to prosecute manufacturers that break the law, but not individuals. The worst that could happen to a company producing dangerous building materials is that it gets a ‘slap-on-the-wrist’ fine and the product is taken off the market.
The survivors – the community and the families of all those who have died in the Grenfell Tower fire – are still demanding justice! That is that all those responsible for the deaths of their loved ones are charged with murder and jailed.
The Bill was scrutinised by a Parliamentary Committee on Thursday, with the leader of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Matt Wrack addressing the committee. He said: ‘We have had incidents where our own members have died and it has emerged that the fire risk assessor for the building concerned had no qualifications, and so I think that’s quite shocking and that’s a sign of a deregulated sector.’ Wrack also highlighted devastating 25% cuts to fire inspection over the last decade.
Over 400 Grenfell campaigners, cladding campaigners and leaseholders living in dangerous buildings with flammable cladding protested outside Parliament as the committee was meeting.
The notion being put forward by the government – that the crisis in the building industry is that it is unregulated and simply needs to have stricter regulation – is as far from the truth as you could possibly get.
The plain fact is that the whole capitalist system from top to bottom is run for profit alone. These companies are given free rein to make their profits and make them they do, at all costs – even if those costs are measured in human lives. Profit rules the roost while life is cheap as far as stop-at-nothing capitalist companies are concerned.
In the case of Grenfell, the only reason that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council ‘renovated’ the Grenfell Tower is because it was considered an eyesore to the richer Chelsea residents. The Tenants Management Organisation (TMO) for years ignored the cries of the Grenfell Tower residents who warned time and time again the building was unsafe.
The cheapest flammable cladding was supplied by Arconic and the cheapest flammable insulation was supplied by Kingspan. Rydon organised the renovation. It was a shoddy job with windows installed back to front, no fire breaks and big gaps, which when the cladding and insulation caught fire allowed oxygen to rush in and feed the fire, sweeping it rapidly up the side of the building like a chimney.
These companies knew that their products were flammable. Fire safety tests were passed using extremely dubious methods, the Grenfell inquiry heard. And even now the flammable cladding has not been banned! It is perfectly legal to use the same cladding which caused the deaths of all those residents in Grenfell Tower on any building under four storeys. It is in fact being put up on new hospitals, new schools, new libraries and new homes.
This system of capitalism cannot be ‘regulated’. As long as profit is the driving force behind the building industry, the safety of residents will never be put at the heart of construction.
Trade unions must take action on safety. This government must be brought down and replaced by a workers’ government. The trade unions must stop seeing their role as advising parliamentary committees on regulation and instead call strike action to kick the Tories out. A workers’ government is the only way forward.
For safety’s sake, the entire building industry must be nationalised and put under workers’ control, so that every single home is fitted with sprinklers, fire escapes, smoke extractors, and is built using safe building materials, creating safe and warm council homes for all.