Thousands of people marched in silence on the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower Fire in a powerful show of solidarity, reports Shabbir Lakha
A whole year has now passed since the Grenfell Tower fire that claimed at least 72 lives. On Thursday, at least twelve thousand people, including Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott, marched in silence around Grenfell Tower and through Ladbroke Grove. In February, Stormzy called out Theresa May at the Brit Awards and asked "What, you thought we just forgot about Grenfell?" The massive show of solidarity at the silent march is a further demonstration that no, people haven’t forgotten about Grenfell.
The front of the march was led by survivors and families of the victims of the fire. Most people at the march were wearing green for Grenfell and there were placards calling for justice and for the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and the Tenant Management Organisation to be held accountable. The final rally was compèred by Lowkey, who released a second song about Grenfell to mark the anniversary.
A year ago, the fire was a shock to the whole country – except to tenants of Grenfell Tower themselves who warned the council that something exactly like this would happen if they didn’t take their concerns seriously. But this fell on deaf ears. Worse, some of the tenants were threatened with legal action for campaigning for fire safety. The chilling words of the Grenfell Action Group, who raised the alarm on the lack of fire safety at the Tower years before the fire, should never be forgotten:
It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO)
The government’s response to the tragedy was abhorrent. Theresa May refused to meet the survivors. Instead, she paid a quick visit to the emergency services personnel – the same people that her government has kept under a 1% pay cap and who her government are now trying to shift the blame of the fire onto.
And the relief efforts were just as shoddy. There was no centrally organised relief operation, it was down to the resilience of the community and the thousands of volunteers who flocked in to organise shelter, food and clothes for those who had lost everything in the fire.
A year on not much has changed. Only 82 of the households from Grenfell Tower have been given permanent accommodation. Dozens of families are still living in hotel rooms, often sharing one room between a family, and over 100 families are living in temporary accommodation. The 68 flats bought by the council in 375 High Street Kensington that were reported to be fast-tracked for completion and house survivors, hasn’t materialised.
A number of council leaders that were involved directly in the decisions that resulted in the fire resigned, but not an ounce of justice has been done. People like Rock Fielding-Mellen, responsible for the regeneration of Grenfell Tower and who the contractors said they opted to use the cheaper, flammable cladding for, should be behind bars for murder – not lounging in his multi-million-pound mansion.
In the aftermath of the fire, tests on the cladding of tower blocks around the country revealed that hundreds of buildings had the same flammable materials making up their facades. The government have yet to provide funding for a number of austerity-hit councils that have said they can’t afford to replace the cladding of over 250 buildings without central government funds. A year later, thousands of Britons continue to live in buildings that are at risk of spreading fire like Grenfell, and private landlords like Vincent Tchenguiz have told their residents that cladding will only be changed if they pay for it.
And the public inquiry that has now begun has already faced a number of issues from the onset. The presiding judge is one that has ruled in favour of social cleansing, the terms of reference are limited and despite some concessions, it’s clear that the inquiry will not be likely to direct blame at the government or any individuals – much like Chilcot.
Most shamefully still, is the recent government-media-police coordinated attack on the firefighters that bravely risked their lives to rescue people from Grenfell Tower, some even disobeying orders and going above the line of duty. But at the silent march, as has been the case with all the marches that have taken place every month since the fire, the heroic firefighters that helped in Grenfell lined up outside Ladbroke Grove Station – and people on the march stopped to thank them. It was a clear testament to the fact that the media spin is not working in the community, who recognise who it is that’s really responsible for the tragedy they have faced.
Days after the fire, when residents of the area demonstrated and stormed the Council, there was a strong sense of anger and clearly directed at the council and the government. After being at the march, it’s clear that that anger is still there and it’s still aimed at the Council and Theresa May. The Tower is now covered in white sheets, but it will forever remain a symbol of Tory austerity, a melting pot of all the ways this government has attacked the working class.
Mona Kamal speaking at a demonstration days after the fire
The silent march was powerful and incredibly moving; it served as a way for the community to come out in force together, and as Jeremy Corbyn said, to mourn together and overcome together. The sheer number of people that turned up, and the strong messages on some of the placards and banners are reminders that the anger hasn’t gone away. The Tories can’t be let off the hook. And for that, we also need to be bold in challenging the government directly and we need to do so as the wider movement united with the Grenfell community.
It’s why the demonstration on Saturday assembling outside Downing Street at 12pm, is so important. Theresa May needs to be given the message, loud and clear, that Grenfell has not been forgotten and that as well as mourning, we’re angry, we want justice and we won’t just sit back until real justice has been done. The march is co-organised by the Fire Brigades Union, which again is extremely important politically to rebuke the attempts to put the blame on them.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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