Phase one of the Grenfell inquiry has been released. It shifts blame from the council and private companies to the Fire Brigade. Thousands still live in houses with flammable cladding. Only a socialist Labour government will put people before profit.
After many months and delays, Sir Martin Moore Bick has presented his findings from phase one of the Grenfell fire inquiry. One of the most significant findings is what we all knew to be true: that the refurbishment breached building regulations. Moore Bick said that the building’s walls “did not adequately resist the spread of fire over them” and “on the contrary promoted it”. This raises the hope amongst survivors and the bereaved of criminal prosecutions against Arconic, Cellotex, Rydon, the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council (RBKC), the TMO and key Tory ministers.
Much of the first phase focuses on the role of London Fire Brigade (LFB). It has potent and correct criticism of the LFBs systemic failings, but if said criticism of the LFB are allowed to stand alone, and out of context, an injustice will have been carried out.
As Matt Wrack from the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) points out.
“The truth is that the fire spread the way it did because it was wrapped in flammable cladding. The firefighters turned up after that had happened, after the building had already been turned, in reality, into a death trap.”
He goes on to point out the ordering of the inquiry is back to front, where the focus is shifted away from the real criminals, who put profit over safety.
Phase one emphasised the failures of the structure and management, along with the policy of training and equipment. Specific criticism of the LFB was made in regards to the ‘stay put policy’. Moore Bick states that the time the stay put policy should have been abandoned should have been between 1.30 -1.50 am, as doing so could have potentially saved lives.
Indeed criticism of the stay put policy was made by firefighters a year before Grenfell. The FBU raised concerns of the policy with both the LFB and the government, following a fire in Hertfordshire that led to the death of two firefighters and a member of the public.
In December 2018 the FBU asked for a national review of the stay put policy. It has taken until now for that urgent recommendation to be made by the inquiry. Criticisms made of the training and strategy in the LFB have been made for fifteen years by the FBU.
“We have been arguing for 15 years against a fragmented fire service. There are no national standards in the fire service. There is no national research. There are no national structures to ensure the recommendation of the inquiry are implemented because there is no national structure currently.”
“We lose members of the fire service. Members of the fire brigades unions and one of the things we have identified, time and again, is recommendations are not applied. So yes we are saying there has to be fundamental change. We have called for that change for many years. We are ignored, we hope that this is a turning point. But actually so far, 28 months on nothing fundamental has changed.”
Indeed the dismissal of the Firefighters concerns and warnings for decades is a reflection that the working class has no stake under capitalism. Issues of fire safety have been low on the priority of the government. The report is right to mention the fire service did not have adequate equipment, the radios and computer support system failed, and aerial platforms could only spray water as high as the 10th floor.
Tories to blame
The responsibility for the brutal austerity cuts that exacerbated the tragedy of June 14th lies at the feet of the Conservative Party. The party who have overseen the axing of over 9,000 firefighters, the closing of fire stations (10 alone in London), longer response times and a raise in overall fire deaths. The very same Party who are happy to be lobbied by plastic manufacturers and private housing firms, and who constantly call for a ‘bonfire of red tape’.
Again, they also spoke of training for this situation. We shouldn’t live in a society where you have to prepare for tackling fires in a building with flammable cladding. You shouldn’t have to train frontline workers to endanger themselves for such anti-human architecture.
Just like the firefighters, the residents of Grenfell and the Grenfell Action Group were ignored when they issued their stark warnings.
Indeed many of the recommendations, such as the development of national policies on evacuation from high rise buildings, improved equipment for firefighters, and the development of policies for emergency call handling, require not only funding to be made available, but a fundamental shift in society. Because, remember these are recommendations, so the Tories are not bound by anything to implement them.
The fact that the recommendations from the Lakanal house fire have not been instigated is proof of that, along with so many other much needed improvements to make our housing safe. A political struggle is required to have even the basic recommendations of the report fulfilled, because under capitalism, there is no workers control over our fire service, or housing.
The recommendations also require political will to be enforced. The report recommends for owners and managers of high rise buildings to undertake urgent inspections. These include regular checking of fire doors and lifts, and the provision of fire safety signage. How long will it take for such recommendations to be implemented? And how will such policies be enforced?
The ever corrosive force of the profit motive is constantly undermining and debasing health and safety standards. Building owners and managers will have a motivation to fudge and ignore policy as they did in the Grenfell Tower. Just look at how they reacted up and down the country when asked to remove all the flammable cladding on other buildings.
Regarding the recommendations, Emma Dent Coad, Labour MP, points out:
“There is very little there for people who are still living in dangerous buildings at night, and who are afraid. There is nothing really there for them. They are going to have to wait another year and a half before there are even recommendations let alone before they are even implemented.”
Indeed the recommendations will always fall short due to capitalism being the problem. Real recommendations should call for the nationalisation of the housing and construction industries, and the overthrow of the capitalist system. Something Moore Bick will never do.
Two and a half years on
So what is the situation today, two and a half years after the fire at Grenfell tower? As previously mentioned, thousands still live in houses with flammable cladding. 435 high rise and publicly owned buildings have been identified as having ACM cladding. To date only 114 of them have had the cladding removed and replaced.
What is more, no building in the private sector has received any funding to remove cladding. The cost is often being shafted on to lease holders, who had no say or control of the cladding being installed.
Labour has issued a correct demand that any private building which fails to remove the ACM cladding be seized from its owners. It is estimated that if ACM cladding removal continues at this rate it will not be until 2031 that it is completely removed from privately owned buildings. Moreover, ACM cladding is not the only flammable cladding we have to contend with. In June this year, wooden cladding led to the destruction of a housing block in Barking.
In many regards phase one was the easy part. It dealt with how the fire spread, and the response of the LFB. It did not cover the lead up to the fire that caused the death trap to be built in the first place. During phase one, firefighters were keen to participate in the inquiry. In contrast, private businesses and politicians are avoiding participation as much as possible.
Obtaining justice against the actual criminals: Arconic, Cellotex, Rydon, RBKC , the TMO and the Tory government will be harder. For one thing the expectation that the inquiry will deliver justice on this matter is the expectation that a state tries itself. I.e. that it exposes its own many links with business that extend from national to local government and state institutions.
If there is any doubt about the extent of this struggle you need only look at the case of Gavin Barwell. Before Barwell became Theresa May’s chief of staff, he was the Tory Housing Minister. In this role, he sat on the Lakanal House fire report and failed to implement recommended changes. He ignored at least 7 letters from MPs raising concerns over fire safety. Yet Barwell has not faced scrutiny or justice. Instead he has been rewarded with honours and given a peerage.
The struggle for justice goes well beyond the limits of the inquiry. And this struggle is the duty of the labour movement as a whole. Arrests must be made. Changes must be implemented so it never happens again. This requires a mass movement for political change and the socialist transformation of society.