AFTER the horror of Grenfell Tower fire, where so many men, women and children burned to death, the big issue is ‘is anyone safe in their homes under British capitalism?’
We know that over 300 tower blocks have the same flammable cladding as Grenfell Tower and only three have had their cladding replaced. Tory ‘light-touch regulation’ has resulted in a situation where fire safety standards have been completely thrown to the winds.
‘Build them fast, build them high, build them cheap’ is the mantra of the private building giants, that take on project after project, eager to make a quick buck. And when the chickens come home to roost, the whole company collapses like a house of cards.
However, companies like Carillion did not only build housing, they also built hospitals and schools. In fact the Royal Liverpool Hospital is now an abandoned building site as all work ceased the moment Carillion went bust.
Subsequently, we have found out that children, far from being safe and secure when they are at school, are also unwittingly spending their days in buildings which are essentially fire traps. At the end of last year, on December 8th, over 200 school children had to be evacuated from Cairneyhill Primary school in Dunfermline, Scotland, as a fire tore through the building. The alarm was raised around 1pm. It was only thanks to the quick thinking and rapid response of the teachers that not a single child was hurt.
An investigation, the results of which were published at the beginning of this week, confirmed that the school building was not fitted with a single smoke alarm! After it emerged that only 72% of Fife’s schools are fitted with smoke detectors, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teachers’ union, Fife branch, demanded that every school in the country be immediately assessed for fire risk.
EIS Fife spokesman David Farmer said: ‘When it comes to new schools, contractors seem to be putting smoke detectors in as standard. These schools have got the detection equipment, but the older schools haven’t.’
New schools may be fitted with smoke alarms, but they are not, however being fitted with equally essential fire prevention equipment: sprinklers. The Tories, in their rush to build privately run academies have again thrown fire safety out the window.
Yesterday, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) with teachers’ union the National Education Union (NEU) jointly accused the Tories of ‘jeopardising fire safety in schools’. They wrote to the Tory Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds, about the scandal of new schools without fire sprinklers.
The unions said: ‘Barely six months after the government caved in to pressure from the National Education Union and the Fire Brigades Union not to weaken fire protection arrangements for schools, it appears that it is merely paying lip service to its own advice, allowing it to be routinely flouted in the rush to build new schools as cheaply as possible.
‘Building Bulletin 100: Design for Fire Safety in Schools (page 12) is clear that all new schools should have sprinklers fitted, “except in a few low risk schools”. It would appear that the definition of “a few low risk schools” encompasses Selsey Academy in West Sussex, which burned down in 2016 and, inexplicably, is being re-built without sprinkler systems fitted. This is not an isolated case.
‘The school at the base of Grenfell Tower (Kensington Aldridge Academy), built in 2014, does not have a sprinkler fitted … In fact, since 2010 only 35% of new schools have been fitted with sprinklers.’
Andy Dark, Assistant General Secretary of the FBU, said, ‘The government’s attitude toward fire safety is shockingly cavalier,’ while Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the NEU, said:
‘Grenfell Tower should have been a defining moment in the way we view safety in public buildings but it seems that health and safety is still seen as an opportunity to cut corners and save money.’
Meanwhile, the fire brigade has been cut to the bone by the Tories with 11 fire station shut down in London alone.
The issue of fire safety exposes the Tories’ complete disregard for the lives of working class families and their children. The attitude of the Labour Party is wait until a general election and things will get better under a Labour government. This situation will not wait until a general election in 2020. It is clear that this government must be brought down, before any more people die in fires.
The whole working class must come out demanding that the buildings that they live in, their hospitals, and the schools where their children learn are fire safe. The trade unions must call a general strike now. The working class must go forward to a workers government and socialism.
A workers government will ensure that all shut fire stations are re-opened, that the fire brigade has all the means at its disposal that it needs for modern fire fighting. It will also ensure that all flammable cladding is removed and that sprinklers, fire alarms, smoke alarms, fire escapes and fire doors are installed in every single block of flats and public building in the country so that people know that if a fire breaks out, measures are in place so that they can be evacuated safely.