Fight back against the terror of the rich over the poor!
Article by Almedina Gunić, Revolutionary-Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 18.06.2017, www.thecommunists.net
The number of dead from the Grenfell Tower fire is continually rising and will most likely reach more than 100. This was no simple accident or tragedy. We’re not talking about some everyday local news item which is covered by a short article and which is already forgotten while we’re still reading it. In the case of the Grenfell Tower fire, we are talking about a tragedy that, beyond its terrible reality, is also symbolic of something that shapes the life of our entire society: The oppression of us, the working class.
Read the articles about the reasons for the Grenfell Tower fire. Read the explanations why, outrageously, highly flammable material was used during the building’s refurbishment instead of investing £2 more per square meter for safe, inflammable material. Calculate that we’re talking about £5,000 of extra cost that wasn’t invested in a building housing 600 people, an expense that would have come to a little bit more than £8 per person (1). Read the statements of the fire fighters who warned, years ago, about the building’s being unsafe as it had no working fire alarms and no sprinklers, infractions that were repeatedly ignored by officials. Examine the map of Kensington and Chelsea and locate where the most and the least deprived parts are, and you will discover that Grenfell Tower is situated in the poorest area not only of London but of the entire country. Last but not least, if you live too far away to speak personally with the poor people living in the area in the vicinity of the Grenfell Tower, then watch the videos of them on the internet, read their comments, listen to the interviews with them. They know why this happened to them or to their neighbours and why it would never have happened just few kilometres away in the wealthy areas of South Kensington and Chelsea. This, they know, is because of class differences. In the eyes of the wealthy classes, the poor man's life is not worth another £8.
Cosmetic improvements instead of concerns for safety
The non-fire resistant cladding of the Grenfell Tower was obviously used when refurbishing the building to make it look less shabby for the wealthier elements in Kensington. Besides the suspicion that the cladding of the tower was used illegally, its use shows the priorities of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council and the company with which it worked, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO).
The Grenfell Action Group, a local initiative that has been struggling for many years to improve the workers' living standards wrote: „In May 2013 a serious electrical fault causing multiple power surges at Grenfell Tower posed a major fire risk to residents many of whom witnessed smoke coming from light fittings and other electrical appliances, some of which actually exploded.“ (2)
Instead of investing the £10m refurbishment budget allocated to upgrading the building’s clearly deficient safety standards, it was spent on superficial, cosmetic repairs to make the tower look better from outside and to create the illusion of improvement. To economize, the work on the infrastructure of the building was of very poor quality. The building firm Leadbitter made a bid to improve insulation and replace the defective heating and water system, but the price set for this offer was £11.27 million, which was £1.6 million over the allocated budget. Instead, the KCTMO accepted the bid made by Rydon Ltd. to do the job for £8.7 million, which ultimately involved fitting boilers in the middle of hallways, laying exposed pipes across carpets of residents, and so on. (3)
They want to get rid of the poor
The poor people in North Kensington are a hindrance for the prosperous wealthy areas which are in the process of systematically expanding throughout Kensington. The capitalists who are investing in Kensington real estate are doing their best to get rid of the working class character of the area, i.e., they want to get rid of the poor people currently living in the northern part of the borough. Real estate prices in North Kensington have increased since last year by a staggering 17.93% (4), more than double the average increase of 7% for all of London. (5) Social benefits for public, local projects have been cut, with the result being that the number of private structures has increased, despite many local initiatives having been launched to save public housing. As the Labour MP Emma Dent Coad summed up: „There are groups supporting the community stables (hanging on), the sports centre (partially privatised), the nursery (closed), the construction training centre (closed), the day centre for people with dementia (closed), Citizens Advice bureau (relocated), Acklam Village community space (under review) and, not least, a group dedicated to tackling the vile and toxic air pollution that kills more than 80 people a year in the borough and causes the early onset of dementia.“ (6)
However, the heroic, hard work of local proletarian initiatives to improve the living standard of the working class in the area, instead of reaping rewards, turns out to be like the task of Sisyphus battling against the will of the rich gods. These proletarian initiatives are doing their utmost to stop the social cleansing of the workers and poor that is taking place in Kensington. As one resident, Peaky Saku, put it in a BBC live interview: „They want more reasons to knock these blocks down. There is two options: Regenerate the blocks or they can knock them down. And after that I am not so sure that this (the fire) was totally an accident. (…) The way they don't want us here, that there's rich man's block over there (…) these fires have never happened before.“ (7)
The rich, anti-social behaviour and capitalism
This is the law of evolution written by capitalism. It is not the survival of the fittest as Darwin proclaimed; it is the survival of the richest. And the richest don't need to fit in as they can buy themselves into everything.
Their social behaviour is not one that fits into the needs of humanity. “We have now done 12 separate studies measuring empathy in every way imaginable, social behavior in every way, and some work on compassion and it’s the same story,” the social scientist Dacher Keltner said, “Lower class people just show more empathy, more prosocial behavior, more compassion, no matter how you look at it.” (8)
Otherwise it would not be the case that unintelligent children with a wealthy background are 35% more likely to earn more money in later life than extraordinarily intelligent children from among the poor. (9) Similarly, it would not be that the average working household is £345 a year worse off than before the capitalist crisis started in 2008 (10), with the poor being 57% poorer than before and the rich being 64% richer (sic!) than previously. (11)
The mentality of the super-rich who are cleaning their shoes with a £50 note to remove the „peasant dirt“ (not a cliché but something that is really happening! (12)) is much more representative of the reality of the capitalist class than what they generally want to admit in public. In Kensington they don't just remove the „peasant dirt“ from their shoes, but are obviously doing their best to remove the cause of the „peasant dirt,“ i.e., the working class people from Kensington as such. No wonder that the Grenfell Tower fire triggered protests of outrage by the working class.
Protestors and politicians
Theresa May has proved completely inept in this situation as she hid from the tenants and their working class neighbours, and instead praised the few policemen who used their riot equipment to support the fire-fighters. It is typical that her sympathies go with the repression apparatus and its weapons, even though, atypically in this case, the police violence was used to defend the heroic fire fighters instead of their normal brutally beating down of protestors. May is the authentic public face of the Tories who are arch enemies of the working class and who are working overtime to play at the empathy game with the victims of the fire. No wonder she didn’t show up at the scene of the fire -- she would have been attacked by the protestors within seconds.
Work for the Labour Party is much simpler, as its ambiguous nature as a bourgeois workers’ party helps their officials to a certain degree to relate to the Kensington workers and poor. Jeremy Corbyn arrived after one hour in North Kensington to talk with people there. He criticized the local council for not using the unoccupied houses of the rich in Kensington to provide the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire with shelter in the same area. Corbyn also backs the demands of the Grenfell Action Group and the Radical Housing Network to have public investigations of the causes of the fire. (13)
As a result, the Labour leader’s general political agenda is viewed as radical and socialist by many of his enemies who hysterically warn against a Corbyn-led government: „The Labour Party and the country need rescuing from his dangerous campaign!“ (14)
Indeed the progressive ideas in his agenda, like the nationalisation of the railways and the energy sector, Britain’s leaving NATO and the Trident (nuclear weapons) programme, the building of one million homes and others justify critically supporting him in the elections and against the Blairites in the Labour Party. (15) However, we should not forget that we most likely lost more than 100 of our class brothers and sisters in the Grenfell Tower fire because of the system Corbyn, at the end of the day, supports. Not to speak of the untold millions of dead class brothers and sisters who have lost their lives as a result of the crimes of capitalism.
Kill the rabid wolf
This is a war against us and our lives that has been going on since the 18th century, since the very beginning of capitalism. In this class war we are losing our health and, in the end, our lives and the lives of our loved ones. The location, type and quality of our dwelling places are just one front in this war. According to statistics, disease and injuries (all of them avoidable) caused by poor housing cost the NHS at least £600m per year (16) and 3.8 million workers are in poverty because of high rental housing costs. (17) Studies show that the bedroom tax led to „increased poverty and had broad-ranging adverse effects on health, wellbeing and social relationships“. (18)
When we were kids, it was fun to play „Which animal do you see?“ as we looked at the black mould on the walls of the tiny bedroom the three of us shared with our parents. Respiratory illness was the less funny part of the mould game. As adults, we witnessed the painful death of our class brothers and sisters in the Grenfell tower fire and become angry as hell. No wonder, protestors stormed the Kensington town hall to confront the RBKC council, chanting „No justice, no peace!“ Which brings us exactly to the point: There is no justice and there should not be any peace until we end this war being waged by our rulers against us by overthrowing them!
It is like a rabid wolf attacking a village, killing most of the villagers. The Tories and Theresa May are the owners of the wolf, and enjoy watching him attacking the village and say „Sorry, folks! We hadn’t planned it this way.“ The left wing of Labour headed by Jeremy Corbyn is merely trying to become the new owners of the rabid wolf, and their plan is to hypnotize the beast and to transform it into a calm, healthy and happy bunny rabbit. But somehow, this just won’t work out.
The wealthy wolf
For more than a century, Social Democrats are trying to convince our class to come to an arrangement with the oppressors. South Kensington's Labour MP, Emma Dent Coad, uses this tack when she says:
„South Kensington has stepped up for North Kensington with donations, love and expert help. Kensington has come together to grieve and to help and to show it cares. This is a huge first step and over the next weeks, months and years we will work together, with honesty and transparency, to address and resolve the issues around the horrendous and frightening event that has revealed Kensington’s true face.“ (19)
What is true is that many of the people from the wealthy areas of Kensington offered their help, donated money and even worked as volunteers during the days since the fire. But at the end of the day, they don't go back to shabby houses and have to struggle to meet the basic needs of life. At the end of the day, they need nearly a hundred dead around the corner to bring them to the notion that they should somehow help their poor neighbours. But this is cynical hypocrisy, because the affluent of Kensington, like the well off everywhere, live with poorness in front of their eyes every single day and consistently ignore it. Not because they were born bad but because they were born well-off.
If the median annual income in Kensington is over £100,000 (20), why don’t the “enlightened” prosperous of Kensington, those who felt so moved to help following the fire, voluntarily cut down their own standard of living to a more moderate one and donate the rest to the poor families? For a couple with two children who are among those living within the lowest 10% of UK incomes, the average annual income is only £19,700. (21) In other words, the median income of a Kensington household is equivalent to that of 5 poor families in UK.
The answer why the rich and well-off don’t share their wealth with us is that they are not wealthy despite our being poor - they are wealthy because we are poor. Their wealth is not a gift of fate. The profits of companies and multinational cooperation are stolen money from us, the workers. The way those companies and multinational corporations generate profits must, by necessity, harm our health, our lives and the nature in which we all live in. Not only in case of the murderous profit-thought which killed our brothers and sisters in the Grenfell Tower fire, but in all areas of our lives as working class persons.
A side-note on the Grenfell Tower fire and the Daesh terror attacks
Finally, let us note that the Grenfell Tower fire cost about as many lives as the combined number of all victims of all so-called Islamist terrorist attacks in Britain since 2005 (92 dead). (22) But while the ruling class whipped up public hysteria about the danger of "Islamist extremism," they didn’t give a damn about the deteriorating living conditions of the working class and the accompanying danger to our lives!
Naturally, this does not diminish the vile, reactionary nature of the terrorist attacks by Daesh against innocent civilians. (23) But it is revealing that such terrorist attacks are exploited by the ruling class in order to drum up hatred against Muslims and to invest many millions of pounds in expanding the domestic repression apparatus, including increasing the surveillance of the people. Compare these sums to what they are doing now! How much money will they now invest, after the Grenfell Tower fire, in better and safer housing?! How much will they actually and effectively increase the regulation of all the companies involved in construction and public safety?!
Fight back the rich people's terror
The anger and the hate against all of those people who are directly or indirectly responsible for the cruel death of our brothers and sisters in the Grenfell Tower fire is exploding, as the protests in its wake have demonstrated. This is a very important step towards ending such tragedies for good, but it is only a very small first step on the path of doing so.
Those guilty for the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire must be held accountable. Let us fight for:
* Immediate public investigations organized and led by local structures of the working class in Kensington like the Grenfell Action Group, the Radical Housing Network and others and with the participation of the fire fighters union! These public investigations should be conducted together with the victims of the fire and their families and friends!
* For a tribunal of the workers and poor of Kensington, including the victims of the fire, to decide on the punishment for those guilty and the compensation for the victims!
* Open the books of KCTMO and all the companies that have worked with it in the past and present -- their bookkeeping ledgers, bank accounts, tax returns, etc. -- to the public investigation organs and the tribunal of the workers and poor of Kensington! There must be an end to their “business secrets”!
* Investigation of each and every tower building and other project initiated by KCTMO by the fire fighters of Kensington and local action groups of the workers and the poor to prevent another tragedy. Every measure that the fire fighters and local action groups demand for the security and the health of the tenants of each building run by KCTMO must be met immediately and completely!
* All unoccupied houses in Kensington and Chelsea must be opened for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, as well as for the homeless and the poor who are living in overcrowded, unhealthful flats and houses! Why should those houses be unoccupied for the profit of the speculators and landlords while people lack an intact and healthful home?!
* Stop the closure of fire stations! Re-open modernized fire stations (including those, which were closed during the last years) and massively increase the number of firefighters and pay them a higher wage for the heroic job they are doing!
* Social Housing is not a privilege that can be taken away – it is rather a basic human right that we fight for! For the expropriation of the wealthy landlords and the housing companies to organize a decent living standard for all!
* Immediately end the bedroom tax and every other housing law that harms the poor! For public control of rent, organized by local, regional and nationwide organs of the workers and the poor!
* Massive investment in all public structures that the workers and poor of Kensington and Chelsea demand, including nurseries, sports centres, schools, etc. This should be financed by the expropriation of the super-rich of Kensington and Chelsea and by a massive increase in taxes for the rich! Why should we continue to tolerate that the average annual income in Kensington is over £100,000 while the workers and poor in Kensington are crowded in small and shabby flats and can't afford enough food and medicine?
Activists inside as well as outside the Labour Party, in the trade unions and in local initiatives, should fight for such a program aimed at a massive improvement in housing conditions all over the country. We urge all Labour MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn and Emma Dent Coad, to support all of these demands, to fight for their implementation and to express solidarity with and participate in the people's protest actions. You say that you are willing to fight for the interests of the poor. Now prove it! Of course, these steps need to be taken even if Corbyn is not willing to take them.
The storming of the Kensington town hall showed the militant spirit of the workers and poor. We need a mass movement throughout the entire country for the massive improvement of the housing conditions, paid for by the rich. It is urgent that we organize local people's assemblies in all working class and poor estates nationwide and bring together all local housing initiatives. These assemblies should elect delegates and hold a national conference in order to build a national housing movement that will fight for our rights.
Activists must fight inside the trade unions and local initiatives as well as inside the Labour Party for official support and the active participation of their organizations for such movements.
All class-conscious activists inside Labour should put pressure on their MPs to prove in deeds their solidarity and loyalty towards the poor in Kensington. The Blairites and their friends in Labour will do whatever they can to stop such a consistent proletarian politic. Every class-conscious activist inside Labour should fight for the expulsion of the Blairite party apparatus from Labour.
Whatever the concrete steps now taken, it is clear that we need a new workers’ party that authentically fights for the interests of the working class and the poor, not only in Kensington or London but throughout all of Britain. We believe that such a new workers’ party should be based on a revolutionary program. We need to kill the rabid wolf. We need to smash capitalism via a socialist revolution!
(1) The chronicle of a tragedy foretold: Grenfell Tower, by Jamie Doward, The Guardian, 17 June 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/17/grenfell-tower-government-councils-fire-safety
(2) The Grenfell Action Group Blog, https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/
(3) Grenfell Tower refurbishment used cheaper cladding and tenants accused builders of shoddy workmanship, by Sarah Knapton, The Telegraph, 16 June 2017, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/16/grenfell-tower-refurbishment-used-cheaper-cladding-tenants-accused/
(4) Foxtons Market Trends, North Kensington, How is the North Kensington property market performing? https://www.foxtons.co.uk/living-in/north-kensington/
(5) London Housing Market Report, updated March 2015, https://data.london.gov.uk/housingmarket/
(6) For years, I’ve seen Kensington’s poor treated with disdain, by Emma Dent Coad, The Guardian, 18 June 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/17/for-years-ive-seen-kensington-poor-treated-with-disdain
(7) Grenfell Tower resident Peaky Saku told BBC Victoria Derbyshire his thoughts on the fire that engulfed the West London tower block on Tuesday 14 June: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buV929MqlWc
(8) Social Class as Culture: The Convergence of Resources and Rank in the Social Realm, Article (PDF Available) in Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(4):246-250, August 2011, https://www.researchgate.net/journal/0963-7214_Current_Directions_in_Psychological_Science
(9) The triumph of Tim Nice But Dim: Posh but stupid children end up earning more than the poor-but-gifted, by Thomas Burrows for Mail-Online and Eleanor Harding, Education Correspondent For The Daily Mail, 26 July 2015, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3174961/The-Triumph-Tim-Nice-Dim-Report-says-posh-stupid-children-end-earning-poor-gifted.html
(10) UK inequality narrows but many working people are worse off, by Phillip Inman, The Guardian, 10 January 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jan/10/uk-inequality-working-people-pensions-ons
(11) Britain's divided decade: the rich are 64% richer than before the recession, while the poor are 57% poorer, by Nigel Morris, INDEPENDANT, 10 March 2015 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/britains-divided-decade-the-rich-are-64-richer-than-before-the-recession-while-the-poor-are-57-10097038.html
(12) MILLIONAIRE-HEADS Rich Kids of London spark fury by flushing a Rolex, using champagne as a door stop and wiping ‘peasant’ dirt off their shoes with £50 notes, by Sarah Barns, 19 September 2016, https://www.thesun.co.uk/living/1811057/rich-kids-of-london-flush-away-a-rolex-use-champagne-as-a-door-stop-and-wipe-their-shoes-with-50-notes/
(13) The Radical Housing Network, http://radicalhousingnetwork.org/
(14) Jeremy Corbyn must be stopped, by Telegraph View, 22 August 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/labour/11817162/Jeremy-Corbyn-must-be-stopped.html
(15) See on this RCIT Britain: Britain: Elections are a disaster for Theresa May and the capitalists! Now is the time to strike! Bring down this weak and discredited minority Tory coalition! 14 June 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/uk-elections-disaster-for-may/; RCIT Britain: UK General Election 8. June 2017: Vote for Labour – but organize the resistance! Critical electoral support for Jeremy Corbyn on an anti-war and anti-austerity program! For a constituent assembly, peoples assemblies and action committees to fight for a real workers government! 25.04.2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/uk-general-election-6-2017/
(16) The three housing problems that most affect your health, by Jake Eliot, The Guardian, 8 August 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/society-professionals/2014/aug/08/housing-problems-affect-health
(17) Housing crisis 'creates in-work poverty', by Kevin Peachey, BBC, 7 December 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/business-38219881
(18) Tenants hit by bedroom tax suffer range of health problems, study shows, by Patrick Butler, The Guardian, 16 March 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/mar/16/tenants-hit-by-bedroom-tax-suffer-range-of-health-problems-study-shows
(19) For years, I’ve seen Kensington’s poor treated with disdain, by Emma Dent Coad, The Guardian, 18 June 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/17/for-years-ive-seen-kensington-poor-treated-with-disdain
(20) Income in wealthiest area tops £100,000, The Telegraph, 24 August 2007, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1561185/Income-in-wealthiest-area-tops-100000.html
(21) UK incomes: how does your salary compare?, by Patrick Collinson, The Guardian, 25 March 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/money/2014/mar/25/uk-incomes-how-salary-compare
(22) See Wikipedia: List of terrorist incidents in Great Britain, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_terrorist_incidents_in_Great_Britain
(23) See on this RCIT Britain: Second Terror Attack Comes to Britain, 5th June 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/london-attack/; RCIT Britain: Britain: Terror Comes To Manchester - War Comes Home, 23.05.2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/manchester-terror/