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Vol. 81/No. 31      August 21, 2017


Survivors of Grenfell Tower fire protest UK
gov’t inaction

LONDON — Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire and workers in the surrounding area have continued to protest as authorities drag their heels in providing housing and financial aid, making nearby blocks safe, and bringing those responsible for the inferno to justice.

The social housing tower turned into a giant torch as fire spread up the cheap flammable cladding coating its exterior June 14, killing at least 80 people. Many believe the death toll is higher.

Residents and supporters have repeatedly turned out in force at meetings with local and government officials and police. At a packed July 12 meeting at St. Clement’s Church, some 200 local residents and supporters refused to listen quietly as officials, flanked by police, attempted to explain the delays.

As newly installed council leader Elizabeth Campbell talked about cleaning the remaining windows of the tower — after an unavoidable apology for the “inadequate response” to the disaster — one survivor interrupted.

“What about people who lived in the tower, people who died? Why are we talking about housekeeping?” she asked. “We can’t bring back the dead, but what about those who remain? Four weeks is too long. Why are you not answering us? Where is the government? We know the council exists, we know ‘important people’ exist. But it’s like we don’t exist.”

The council leader’s response? “I don’t know what to say in face of such despair.”

Campbell replaced Nicholas Paget-Brown as leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, the wealthiest and most class-divided local authority in the U.K., after Paget-Brown and two other council officials resigned June 30.

“[Prime Minister] Theresa May said survivors would be rehoused in three weeks, but that promise has been broken,” said Stewart Hill, a support worker and Unite union member who lives nearby. His friend Denis Murphy died in the fire. “People are being offered rehousing far away from London.”

As of Aug. 1, the Grenfell Response Team claims 174 offers of rehousing have been made, 45 have been accepted and only 12 families have been rehoused. There were 129 households in Grenfell Tower. In addition to survivors of the fire, others were evacuated from blocks of nearby flats.

Chief investigating officer Matt Bonner told the meeting that the criminal investigation “will not be quick,” saying, “this is more complex than any investigation other than terrorism.”

“This is state terrorism, this is mass murder,” people at the meeting yelled out. “You murdered our friends, our family, our neighbors. If it was one of us we would’ve been arrested by now,” one man said.

Police have since announced that they have “reasonable grounds” to suspect the council and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation of corporate manslaughter. Such charges against an organization could carry a fine, but no prison sentence.

Tomassina Hessel, who was evacuated from a block next to the tower, was one of the speakers at a July 19 protest outside the first meeting of the local council since the fire. She told the Militant that she and other residents are refusing to move back until they see evidence that the block is safe.

Over 100 buildings across Britain have been tested and found to be covered with highly combustible cladding like that on the Grenfell Tower.

Skyscraper fire in Dubai

A huge fire climbed up the cladding-covered exterior of the unfortunately named Torch Tower, one of the world’s tallest residential skyscrapers in Dubai Aug. 4, raining flaming debris on the streets below. The building was still being renovated from a similar fire in 2015.

Authorities acknowledged that at least 30,000 buildings across the United Arab Emirates are built with similar cladding.

The Aug. 4 editorial in the London Times warned that as authorities fail to rehouse people, “Their miserable situation is being politicised, heated up by the rhetoric of class warfare.”

But the ongoing confrontation is not caused by “rhetoric,” but by a social disaster brought on a working-class community by the capitalist rulers’ profit-driven contempt on working people.

Paul Davies contributed to this article.  
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