grenfell tower Grenfell Tower (left) before the fire. Photo: Flickr/Nico Hogg

The tragedy highlights the contempt with which the Tories treat working class people

There are sometimes events which, though nominally accidental, seem to speak to much wider social issues. This is the case with the Grenfell Tower fire disaster. This is true over the actual causes of the disaster, which reflect terribly on a society where privatisation, profit, deregulation and contempt for the poor drive government nationally and locally. Tenants have warned of fire risk, have objected to the refurbishing which may well have helped cause the intensity of the fire, pointed out that there were no sprinklers which would have prevented the fire, nor adequate fire alarms.

But the events also expose other issues. It is obvious in looking at footage of the survivors that whatever help they are now getting comes mainly from volunteers – churches, mosques, synagogues, community groups. Donations from local people have been overwhelming, as one would expect. The anguish of neighbours who could only watch helplessly as people died before their eyes was terrible to see. The same cannot be said of representatives from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which has treated its tenants with the contempt one would expect from a Tory council in one of the richest parts of London. Central government seems more concerned with doing a shoddy deal with the right wing bigots of the DUP than with dealing with a huge tragedy and emergency just a short step from Westminster.

The anger of local residents is palpable. One said that if it wasn’t for the Muslim boys fasting on Ramadan, there would be a riot tonight. Others talked about the fire being started deliberately, in order to force tenants out of the flats and out of the borough. This reflects a genuine and well founded feeling that working class people are being forced out of inner London and often out of the city as the rich take over. Councils like Kensington are rehousing people sometimes hundreds of miles outside London, away from family, friends and schools.

We have a Tory government and council which govern on behalf of a minority and despise the working class. Its privatisation has cut public services to the bone, and there is little provision for this sort of disaster. While there is money to pay private contractors like those who refurbished Grenfell, there is apparently no money to requisition private flats and hotel rooms which lie empty all over Kensington and Chelsea.

This tragedy has happened just after an election which highlighted the deep crisis of the British ruling class and where some of these issues were current. It will serve to deepen discontent and anger over these questions. The truth is British society cannot go on like this, with the poor – many of them of course also from ethnic minorities – treated with contempt, denied the most basic rights, forced to live in poverty alongside some of the richest in the world.

The situation now increasingly mirrors previous crises, especially it seems to me the situation in 1940 where the Chamberlain government could not prosecute the war successfully, nor could it defend its people from air attack. That led to a change of Government – the right wing imperialist Churchill governed alongside mostly Labour ministers – and to a galvanising of popular activity which succeeded in defending London against attack. It also led to much more egalitarian ideas, and to the Attlee government in 1945.

We are in different times now, but the abject failure of a government to provide the basics for the people it is supposed to protect is obvious. The resurgence of left ideas and activity is also obvious. We are now in a situation where – as Lenin said – the ruling class can no longer rule in the old way, and the working class can no longer live in the old way. That’s when an era of revolution opens up.

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.

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