On June 14, the 220 ft. tall Grenfell Tower went up in flames in a matter of minutes, as if it were tissue paper, witnesses reported. The world watched in horror as residents desperately tried to flee the fire, with one mother even dropping her baby out of a window. The BBC has reported that the total number of those killed could be as high as 70.
The fire was no accident; it was an attack on the poor by the capitalist system and its political supporters.
As far back as 2004 concerns were raised about the safety of the building. The EMB Property Management Committee found that the lighting system was in such poor condition it would fail in an emergency situation, with two-thirds of the batteries dead. A 2012 fire risk assessment report found that some portable firefighting equipment hadn’t been inspected or tested in years. Some portable firefighting equipment even had the word “condemned” written on the side.
The building’s residents’ organization, the Grenfell Action Committee (GAC), expressed concern about the existence of only one escape route and the lack of a building-wide sprinkler or alarm system. In November 2016, the GAC warned of “dangerous living conditions,” but after years of being ignored, concluded that “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO.”
When the building was under renovations in 2016, The Guardian reported, the owners requested the more flammable exterior cladding to save £2 (a little over $3 CAD) a square foot. Cladding of a similar material is banned in Germany and the U.S.
In the aftermath of the July 7th, 2005, London Bombings, Ken Livingston, the then-Mayor of London, said the attacks were “aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old.”
Weren’t the victims of the Grenfell fire also victims of such indiscriminate mass slaughter? Like the London Bombings, the victims of the Grenfell fire were working-class, mostly low-income, Londoners from all walks of life. And if the BBC is correct, more working-class Londoners have died as a result of the Grenfell fire than were killed in the London Bombings.
And like the men responsible for the London Bombings, those responsible for the Grenfell fire were motivated by their own political agendas. The owner’s of Grenfell Tower, the Kensington and Chelsea TMO (KCTMO), despite stockpiling £270 million in reserve, chose to disregard the safety of its Grenfell residents in favour of cutting costs. Even when a similar disaster was only narrowly averted in 2013, the KCTMO continued to downplay the seriousness of its residents’ concerns. The Conservative-controlled Kensington and Chelsea Council even went so far as to threaten the publisher of the GAC’s blog with “defamatory behaviour” and “harassment” if they continued posting concerns about the safety of the building online.
Central austerity budgets, moreover, ensured that when a did fire occur, it would cause terrible human suffering. Budget cuts of up to 80% in some communities have drastically reduced frontline services, “visible to all in unrepaired roads, uncollected bins and closed libraries, gyms and children’s centres,” writes George Eaton. Cuts to legal aid made it more difficult for Grenfell’s mostly low-income residents to obtain legal advice, Eaton argues, while the loss of 7,000 firefighters in the last five years, resulting in longer response times and less fire prevention visits, all but guaranteed a major disaster.
“The terrible Grenfell Tower fire in North Kensington was entirely avoidable,” Deon Lombard, an architect, wrote.
Austerity kills. Capitalism kills. The only difference between those responsible for the London Bombings and the Grenfell Tower fire is that the perpetrators of the latter were mostly white men wearing expensive suits and sitting in plush offices.