Today is the second anniversary of the terrible catastrophe that was the Grenfell tower fire. But precious little has changed for the affected residents. The whole labour movement should support their struggle for justice.
When Theresa May made a tearful resignation announcement in front of Downing Street recently, many posts on social media went viral speaking about the lack of tears from the Prime Minister over Grenfell. In any case, Grenfell families wouldn’t have been comforted by any tears then, and they certainly won’t be now. They want justice.
Two years on, and many of the survivors are still not properly housed, despite the Tories’ original ‘three week promise’.
The Grenfell inquiry’s first phase report, meanwhile, already running months behind schedule, is now delayed until October at the earliest. This could delay the second phase of the enquiry, due to start in 2020. Moreover, the police have stated they won’t begin prosecution proceedings (if at all) until 2021, which means their work won’t begin for years.
As we mentioned at the time of the first anniversary, it is hugely important to hear the voices of the survivors. And it is imperative that the catalogue of crimes that led to the fire are documented.
However, we continue to hold no illusions in the police or the inquiry when it comes to holding the real criminals – the profiteering capitalists and their Tory representatives – to account.
The Labour Party has obtained figures that show that 38,840 people in 16,600 flats across Britain are still living in tower blocks wrapped in the ticking time bomb that is aluminium composite material cladding. Companies, insurers and property owners are dragging their feet on this, as protracted legal battles rage on.
But there is little good in appealing to the non-existent ‘good nature’ of the bosses and their Tory chums. This was shown in January this year, in regards to Theresa May herself. 56 building owners openly refused to remove dangerous cladding from their buildings. All the Prime Minister could say was that this could take another five years.
It shouldn’t be the capitalists’ decision to block the safety of others. Herein lies the impotency of a judicial and political system that is designed first-and-foremost to protect private property and profit.
One of the most disgusting revelations has been the recent discovery that Kensington & Chelsea Council (K&C Council) hoarded £129 million made in property deals, whilst agreeing cost-cutting measures for Grenfell tower and other social housing in the borough. K&C Council did not even contest the fact that it cut corners over the refurbishment budget. At the time the budget was being set, there was £37 million yet to be allocated just from recent property sales.
This scandal raises the need to expropriate all these ‘luxury’ properties now lying empty around London, used simply for speculation.
Two years on, no one has been charged or tried over Grenfell. There have been no prison sentences for the manufacturers, the building contractors, or politicians. Instead, Reis Morris, a Grenfell activist who lost family members in the blaze, faces a two month prison sentence for ‘threatening behaviour.’
The reporting on the arrest – with distortions and exaggeration – was another attempt to demonise Grenfell activists and the north Kensington community. It is a continuation of previous baseless slanders against Grenfell survivors and activists.
At the same time, the racism of the Tories has been on fully on display, with Conservative council officials reported to have described the Grenfell area as “Little Africa”, “full of people from the Tropics”.
Reis Morris should be freed immediately. The truth is that he and the Grenfell community have shown incredible discipline, dignity and restraint. They were put through hell by an establishment more interested in preventing a social explosion and managing the fall out from Grenfell than seeking any justice or change.
It was for this reason that Grenfell United was formed in the aftermath of the fire, with the knowledge that unless survivors and the bereaved got organised, there would be no answers or any semblance of justice.
From the start, Grenfell United understood their role to be more than just representing the victims of the fire. It was also campaigning on behalf of others in council estates up and down the country whose homes are unsafe and who, like the residents of Grenfell, have also been ignored, lied to, and threatened.
Grenfell United have done incredible work in the quest for justice. They have learnt that the smallest demand requires a fearsome struggle.
Alongside participating in the process of the inquiry as advocates for bereaved families, a fighting political campaign is necessary. Grenfell United does not accept donations. Instead they ask that supporters give to the Grenfell foundation, a charitable organisation. Whilst worthy, however, charity is not the answer.
A campaign fund must be opened. Trade union and Labour branches should be able to affiliate. This would not only provide money to fund a campaign of meetings on every housing estate, but would also open up the campaign to working-class activists up and down the country, seeking support from the widest layers and linking up with them to demand justice and safe homes.
The Labour Party should be building a mass movement on housing, supporting calls for a rent strike until all dangerous cladding is removed. This should be linked to the campaign for a general election to kick the Tories out.
Justice can be won. But not if the Grenfell community is left to fight alone.