Justice for Grenfell!

Author: 

Gemma Short

Late at night on Tuesday 13 June, a fire gutted Grenfell Tower in west London.

It is likely that a large number of people have died: firefighters have told people the number will be in triple figures. Many hundreds of people's lives have been destroyed as their family members, friends, neighbours, and homes have been taken from them.

Our solidarity is with those families and with the emergency service workers who battled to save them whilst witnessing harrowing scenes.

There is no doubt that this was a criminal act. Whether due to the flammable cladding; the lack of sprinklers or fire alarms; the single fire escape; fire service cuts; local government funding cuts; or the complete contempt shown for the tenants by the council when they were repeatedly warned that the tower was a death-trap.

There is also no doubt that this is a political issue. In the richest borough in the country, working-class people's lives are a nuisance for the rich. The majority of the tenants of Grenfell were black or ethnic minority, many were recent refugees and migrants: their lives didn't seem to matter. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council has such ingrained contempt for working-class people that despite the huge loss of life it has been left to the local community and volunteers from across London to fill a vacuum of official information or support. The council leader Nick Paget-Brown has been unable to prevent himself blaming the victims - saying on TV when asked about the tenants' warning that "you always get complaints from tower blocks".

This tragedy cannot be separated from wider housing policy. The disparity in housing for the rich and poor is stark. Many working-class people are living in sub-standard housing, whether older, ill-maintained social housing or in the poorly-regulated private sector with soaring rents and profiteering landlords. Councils cannot currently build large amounts of their own housing. Housing for the working class is being squeezed out with every new development. The answer is not simply to knock down tower blocks of this nature. This must be a turning point in housing policy.

Last night (Friday 16 June) protests in both Kensington and central London showed the anger residents and supporters rightly feel. In central London protesters gathered outside the Department for Communities and Local Government demanding justice for the victims. In Kensington people gathered at both Grenfell Tower for a candle-lit vigil and others gathered at Kensington Town Hall to protest before storming the building and occupying it.

There must be justice for Grenfell.

* Grenfell Action Group's blog (where repeated warnings were posted before the fire)

* This article was written on Saturday 17 June. A longer, more detailed, article will be published on Monday.