Grenfell Fire - Getting away with murder

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grenfell council

On 6 November 2017 the task force set up by the government in the wake of the appalling fire at Grenfell Tower in west London published its interim report. It is scathing in its criticism of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) which, it says, completely ‘failed its community on the night of 14 June and the months following’. It describes a historic relationship between the council and the working class community of north Kensington as at best ‘distant’ and at worst one of neglect, and says that this is reflected in the continuing poor treatment of survivors and the wider community. Most of all, the report lambasts the ‘painfully slow’ rate at which survivors of the Grenfell fire have been rehoused. By the beginning of November – nearly five months after the fire – just 26 households had been found permanent homes. The vast majority of the remaining 177 households, including 226 children, are still stuck in woefully inadequate emergency accommodation – B&Bs, hostels and hotels; a few dozen are in temporary housing. Jack Lukacs reports.

RBKC still has most of its near £300m reserves in the bank. No criminal charges have been brought against any member of the council or the management organisation that oversaw the cut-price and lethal refurbishment of the tower, and the public inquiry into the disaster has pushed back the date at which it expects to publish an interim report still further into 2018. Any form of justice for the Grenfell survivors seems as far away as ever. The local community has from day one been just about the only force to organise consistent support, counselling, art projects and legal assistance for survivors – but political support for their demands seems to have melted away. Kensington and Chelsea council and the KCTMO are being allowed, quite literally, to get away with murder.

In the immediate aftermath of the fire in June, and especially following the invasion of the council building by angry local people, the council and government were forced into a semblance of listening to the community and promising action. In the first few weeks, survivors and residents could count on crowds of supporters, from political groups, housing campaigns, trade unions and even Labour activists. Yet much of this overt political support is now only seen on the Silent Walk called on the 14th of every month. This tribute to those who lost their lives allows the community to engage in an important collective act of mourning and remembrance – but it deliberately does not channel that anger or demands for accountability against those responsible for the disaster. The march goes nowhere near the council building, and features only the briefest of chants at the very end. Calls by individuals for more direct political action have been quickly shut down.

Yet without such action, the council is being let off the hook. At its meeting on 25 October, the two councillors with most responsibility for the fire – Rock Feilding-Mellen and Nicholas Paget-Brown – didn’t even bother to turn up to answer survivors’ questions. The meeting was barely publicised to local people, nor were many made aware of their right to speak. To add further insult, attendees faced barricades, security guards and police officers at the entrance to the town hall, and were subjected to full body searches. The absence of organised protest outside – in solidarity with the survivors and their supporters inside – was striking. In particular, where was ‘Justice4Grenfell’, hastily set up in the aftermath of the fire as the ‘official’ campaign but barely seen in terms of public, political action since, apart from on the Silent Marches?

The handful of protesters who were present outside the council building included the Revolutionary Communist Group – which has maintained a regular presence on the streets of north Kensington since the fire – alongside comrades from Class War, and local housing activists fighting the proposed merger of Notting Hill Housing and Genesis housing associations. Local people emerging from the meeting were glad to use our sound system to express their frustration at being continually fobbed off by the council. Without angry protests to support the actions and demands of survivors and residents, there will be no justice. Those in power will make every attempt to silence, sideline, and demoralise the community in order to protect their own interests. It is up to all those fighting in solidarity with the people of Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk to build a movement to hold the guilty to account and to demand decent, safe, social housing for all.

Almost every week, the RCG has held open-mic events in Ladbroke Grove and Shepherd’s Bush, giving local people a chance to express their views. With the support of residents, we have held local meetings and led protests outside the annual general meeting of the KCTMO – alongside the campaign to save Wornington College – and outside Kensington and Chelsea council meetings, as well as taking part in the monthly Silent March.

What is clear is that there is real anger on the streets, at the failures of the council, at the degradation of social housing, at the contempt with which the working class are treated. There is cynicism, too, about the final death toll of 71 published by the police – many question the figure as too low, but know the real number is unlikely to ever be known, given the intensity of the fire and the fact that the council had no up-to-date records of who was living there.

Though the ruling class will use many tricks to divert attention away from its crimes, and though there will be those who attempt to divert community outrage and activism, the Grenfell Tower Fire is too large a crime to ignore. Power concedes nothing without a struggle, and so we must continue to maintain a presence on the streets as we fight for justice.       

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 261 December 2017/January 2018