RESIDENTS whose lives were put at risk, and even the management of devastated businesses near the Buncefield oil storage depot in Hertfordshire have been warning the government not to let the terminal be rebuilt on the present site in Hemel.
One manager at close by Fujifilm pointed out that if the fire had taken place on a working day, then their employees would have been incinerated. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has also spoken out, accusing the Hertfordshire fire authority of being ‘woefully prepared’ to deal with all but the most minor oil fire.
Deputy-Prime Minister Prescott met with 30 local residents and businessmen at the neighbouring Mayfield Industrial Estate on Saturday and even he said that the scale of the damage ‘is just unbelievable’.
In fact, the Buncefield fire – said to be the largest in peacetime Europe – is a damning indictment of the ‘light touch’ capitalist economy that the Blair-Brown government slavishly worships.
The fire has deprived 5,000 workers of their place of employment. Local residents have protested that they face repair bills of thousands of pounds. And home owners can no longer sell their properties, as prospective buyers have, not surprisingly, had a change of heart about moving to the area.
Yet the FBU has revealed that, despite the disaster, Hertfordshire County Council intends to press ahead with plans to cut 53 firefighting posts and close or downgrade seven fire stations. ‘To suggest we need less firefighters now, must seem like madness!’ the union exclaimed.
Furthermore, the local hospital’s Accident and Emergency department is due to close next April, under government proposals.
When the Buncefield depot was built there was hardly any residential property around it. But over the last 40 years it has been surrounded by residential accommodation.
Last week it was raised in parliament that in November 2001, the Health and Safety Executive had prosecuted the British Pipeline Agency Ltd for safety breaches at the Hemel Hempstead depot, on account of inadequate containment around inflammable aviation fuel tanks.
But when an MP demanded to know when the HSE had last inspected the oil depot, the government was unable to give an immediate answer.
The Buncefield disaster has exposed the dangerous state of British capitalism. Yet, as the Fire Brigades Union’s statements of the last week make clear, the Labour government is not prepared to stop the cuts that are preparing future disasters.
Instead, the Blair-Brown administration intends to press ahead with more privatisations of the public services and ‘limited touch’ health and safety provisions.
At the recent conference of the bosses’ organisation, the CBI, Chancellor Brown sought to reassure them that the government would give big business every assistance in its drive for profit. ‘My vision is of a Britain made for globalisation,’ Brown declared. He added: ‘No inspection without justification, no form filling without justification, no information requirements without justification, not just a light touch but a limited touch.’
‘No inspection without justification’ helps prepare more Buncefields.
The only way to stop such disasters is to stop their real cause, which is the capitalist madhouse of private ownership of the means of production, which puts profits first and is now deregulating at a fantastic pace, in a ‘race to the bottom’.
The trade unions must act to prevent new disasters by taking action to remove the big business-worshipping Blair-Brown government to go forwards to a workers government that will bring in a planned socialist economy based on satisfying people’s needs and ensuring their health and safety.