JUST a few weeks ago the Grenfell Tower inferno burnt men, women and children to death, because the fire was able to take hold of cladding that turned it into an uncontrollable wildfire. This tore up the side of the building, while exposed gas piping acted like fuel bombs to feed a blaze which firefighters were unable to halt, and did not have the equipment to deal with.
The firefighters had in fact been unable to get their engines to the building itself because there were so many obstructions that had to be moved, and in the end, they had to make heroic attempts to rescue people from their flats by entering the tower on foot and proceeding upwards through smoke and fire.
The Grenfell tenants group had repeatedly warned that the fire hazards of Grenfell Tower made it a disaster that was just waiting to happen, but it was ignored by the Tory council, the then Tory MP and the government.
The government however had been busy. The FBU says since 2010, more than 10,000 firefighters have been axed, dozens of fire stations closed, fire engines scrapped and levels of emergency rescue equipment slashed. In London alone, ten fire stations have been closed, 27 fire engines axed and more than 600 firefighter posts cut. Every year response times are increasing, and 2015-2016 saw a 15% rise in fire deaths compared with the year before.
Early last year the Tory government legislated to allow the just-created Police and Crime Commissioners to take over the Fire Service, and now, one Roger Hirst is moving in to take over the local fire service in Essex from October, with nearly a quarter of the 37 PCCs in England set to follow his example to apply for the role of Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner that last year’s government legislation provides for.
These plans have been criticised by the FBU, and Dave Green, a national officer, has correctly described this process as a ‘hostile takeover’. However, it is more than this. Throughout the country huge tensions are being generated by ten years of wage freezing and savage cuts in the living standards of millions of workers.
The Tories and their austerity measures are hated, but the government is set to continue with them. The NHS is very badly needed, but siren voices are stating that vast chunks of NHS land must be sold off and hospitals cut and closed.
On pensions, the elderly, once seen as a Tory base, are now regarded as the enemy within, and are being told that they face cuts and the pension age raised, while youth are told that they will have to get used to student debt and cheap labour. Tensions are rising while the government spells out that in front is austerity, more austerity and yet more austerity.
There are obviously big class struggles ahead as the masses will resist all these cuts, including the savage cuts to the Fire Service. What the government is seeking to do with its new legislation is to end the Fire Service as we know it, by putting it under the police chiefs and turning it into a paramilitary force that will operate water cannons against rebellious workers, youth, pensioners, and will be an open arm of the state, operating alongside a more and more armed to the teeth police force, with its shoot-to-kill training.
This plan is a matter not just for the FBU or for the trade union movement as a whole, it is a matter for every worker and youth, who has seen the Fire Service cut to ribbons to the point where it could not do what was necessary at Grenfell Tower. The FBU must demand that this legislation to put the Police Chiefs in charge and militarise the Fire Service is withdrawn.
The TUC Congress, when it meets in September in Brighton, must tell the government that it will not stand for a Fire Service that is slashed to pieces and turned into an aid for the police force, and that this legislation must be withdrawn and all of the fire cuts restored.
The TUC must call a general strike to bring this government down and bring in a workers government that will sack the police chiefs, restore all the Fire Service cuts, put on trial those responsible for the Grenfell inferno, and build millions of safe council homes for all those who need them.