The anger is not subsiding and people are beginning to organise, reports Chris Nineham
The BBC is reporting with presumably unintended irony, that the authorities want to physically 'cover up Grenfell Tower', apparently to make the forensic investigation easier. Of course they would also like to cover up every aspect of the events that led to the disaster or the crime as George Monbiot rightly calls it. The problem from their point of view is that the cost-cutting, corruption and contempt for ordinary people that culminated in the fire go right to the heart of the misadministration on display in local and national government.
Consequently the establishment is closing ranks and is trying to insure that the inquiry will be as limited as possible. There will have to be a massive campaign to fight for an inquiry that doesn't just focus down on immediate technical questions.
But there also needs to be a huge campaign to fight for some real changes in Grenfell's aftermath, to try and make sure that such a monstrous event can never happen again. Like the serial failures that led to the fire, the national and local government's response has been a disgrace. It is almost beyond belief that the majority of the survivors still haven't been permanently rehoused, that they are not receiving government-supplied counselling and that the Council is still treating them with the kind of condescension on display at the Council meeting a few days ago.
Meanwhile, what of the national response? As a tower block resident myself, I can report virtually nothing. Surely it would not have been too much to expect at least an immediate programme of emergency fire assessments in every tower block in the country for example, or a programme to install sprinklers? Certainly where I live, none are planned. Despite the fact that as tenants we organised a 200 strong estate meeting to which we summoned the housing association landlords, there has been no discernible action. Our landlords Circle Housing have even refused to allow us access to the existing fire assessment.
Faced with this frankly shocking passivity local and national, tenants along with other activists in East London organised a public rally with the East London People's assembly on Wednesday to try and add our voices to demands for change. The meeting, addressed by George Monbiot, Matt Wrack from the FBU and local MP Rushnara Ali amongst others, was packed, angry and anxious.
The common understanding in the hall was that Grenfell was partly the product not just of austerity but of decades of privatisation, deregulation and public sector cuts not just under the Tories but, New Labour too. This makes the battle for change all the harder. But people also spoke of a sense of change in the air, created by government vulnerability, the rise of Corbyn and a general mood of insubordination at large.
Much was discussed at the meeting, but there was more than anything a strong mood to get organised and take action. As well as sending solidarity to all the people affected by Grenfell, committing to support a series of national actions, mooting the idea of a national demonstration on housing and agreeing to a local follow up meeting, the rally came up with a list of demands.
Here they are. And here is hoping that more people will take similar initiatives, start getting organised and push for national action in the wake of one of the great scandals of our generation.
A 150-strong People’s Assembly meeting of tenants and others in East London issued the following set of demands in the wake of the Grenfell disaster:
The demands to be financed by central government:
1) Justice for Grenfell. Secure tenancies and proper care for all former residents. An enquiry that will look at all the issues surrounding the disaster and all those found responsible to face charges
2) Immediate independent fire inspections in all tower blocks with published results and findings to be acted on
3) All flammable cladding to be removed from social housing immediately
4) Sprinklers to be fitted in flats in all tower blocks
5) A comprehensive review of emergency evacuation procedures in tower blocks, including a review of fire station closures
6) The right for all social housing tenants to return to council control should they wish by means of estate ballots
7) Landlords to listen: tenants to be consulted about all redevelopments
This is only a beginning.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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