Grenfell Tower
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Grenfell Tower
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Joel Benjamin
joelbenjamin3 months ago

Grenfell Tower

Where deregulation & a 'bonfire of red tape' meet systematic neglect & contempt for London's poor
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Grenfell Tower: From crime scene to cover-up?

Grenfell Tower: From crime scene to cover-up?
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Around 1:00 a.m. on June 14, a fridge unit on the fourth floor of Grenfell Tower - a 24 story apartment block in Kensington and Chelsea, London - caught fire and spread rapidly.

After two hours, the fire, leaping from floor to floor via flammable exterior cladding reached the top of the tower, and spread laterally to engulf all sides of the block as stunned residents looked on in horror, amidst the desperate screams of trapped neighbors.

As the fire took hold, hundreds of residents and firefighters tried to simultaneous descend and ascend a single, smoke filled stairwell, littered with bodies escaping the inferno. Firefighters who witnessed the tragedy have been gagged from speaking out publicly.

By daybreak, Grenfell Tower, despite the best efforts of 200 brave firefighters, was transformed into a smouldering tomb, containing the remnants of anywhere between 80 and 300, mostly working class and poor victims. The missing include immigrants from Morocco, Sudan, Ghana and Eritrea.

Since a refurbishment of the Tower facade was approved by Kensington and Chelsea Council in 2014, residents of the Grenfell Action Group repeatedly warned of unacceptable fire risks to the Arms Length Management Organisation - KCTMO that ran the estate, and were not only ignored, but issued with legal threats by council lawyers.

Following deregulation of the UK housing sector UK under Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair & David Cameron, tower blocks like Grenfell aren't required to have sprinkler systems fitted retrospectively. Survivors all say the building's newly installed smoke alarm system failed.

Kensington and Chelsea Council has £274m set aside in reserves, yet inexplicably, refused to pay the extra £5000 (£2 per sq m) to ensure the thermal cladding, fitted to Grenfell Tower's exterior was fire resistant. The New York Times noted that even in the USA (the home of neoliberal capitalism) the polyethylene cladding used on Grenfell Tower is banned for use in high rise towers.

The blackened hulk of Grenfell Tower which now scars the approach into West London has become symbolic. Not only of the deep divisions in British society, based on class and ethnicity, but also of the systematic failure of the state to protect the vulnerable, and of criminal neglect and utter contempt for London's poor.

Poet Ben Okri penned: “They did not die when they died; their deaths happened long before. It happened in the minds of people who never saw them. It happened in the profit margins. It happened In the laws. They died because money could be saved and made... The residents call it the crematorium... If you want to see how the poor die, come to Grenfell.

Neoliberal think tanks Policy Exchange, Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) and Adam Smith Institute (ASI) called for a "bonfire of red tape" egging on politicians to kill 'health and safety culture.' Only now, we can all visualize the fatal end point of such ideological folly.

Naomi Klein observes Grenfell Tower: "embodies the crisis of our era, the systematic neglect of people inside, and the investment in image and facade. This cost benefit analysis and the discounting of human life was also at the heart of Hurricane Katrina, in part because it was poor black people on the other side of those levees."

Like Hurricane Katrina, Grenfell Tower exposed not only the failure of the state to prevent a crisis, but failure to respond to crisis. Collectively, "we have failed as a nation."

Rather than supporting Grenfell survivors, authorities are failing to reveal the lists of the missing and the dead, allowing families to grieve.

Instead of rehousing victims locally, council are attempting to break up survivors through out of City placements, controlling the flow of information and legal aid, and failing to deliver food and counselling services where they are needed.

London MP David Lammy and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan have demanded the Government step in and appoint commissioners to run the Municipality, after a shambolic disaster response effort led to the resignation of the Council leader and CEO.

Since Grenfell, tests at 181 other high rise blocks have failed safety standards, leaving residents unsafe and feeling abandoned by the State.

As fears of a Government cover-up grow, residents have begun a Peoples Inquest under the Westway facing the tower, where first hand witness accounts & testimony will be painted... 

Grenfell Tower: From crime scene to cover-up?

Outsourcing of responsibility and contempt for Grenfell's resident poor, condemned hundreds to a fiery death. Many of whom would still be alive today but for failure to invest just £200,000 for a sprinkler system and £5,000 for fire-resistant cladding.

Until justice is served for victims and survivors, the burned out shell of Grenfell stands as a haunting monument to a failed system of deregulation and market-based housing provision.

Grenfell Tower: From crime scene to cover-up?
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joelbenjamin
I am the co-founder of Community Reinvest and a part-time investigative journalist & researcher/ activist with Debt Resistance UK & The People vs PFI.