Grenfell; A Tragic Lesson

The tragedy of the Grenfell tower fire, the loss of so many lives, the families robbed of loved ones, the sheer human tragedy that has affected so many as it’s residents were engulfed in flame has touched many in Ireland. The outpouring of sympathy for those killed and those affected is based in the very real and very strong empathy we feel and it would be to the discredit of all the victims and survivors should this tragedy simply be viewed as an accidental fire and no further comment made. This tragedy is a tragedy of the oppressed and the marginalised.


The calls against politicising the discourse which resulted in the fire should be viewed with suspicion and hostility due to several simple facts. The victims were holistically working class, poor members of the public, many of which were ethnic minorities. The calls for improving the infrastructure of the building and reforming safety regulations were ignored and that this building and this tragedy occurred in the wealthiest district in London tells us that an unjustifiable neglect was the root cause.


Governmental policy in regards to the living conditions of Britain’s working class have been sinisterly ignored in favour of pro-landlord policy and as Westminster and Stormont remain institutions of much the same class interest, with overlapping powers in governance in the North it is important that we not only empathise but learn from the misery that has befallen the tenants of Grenfell. Through a greater understanding of what has taken place, we may better organise ourselves to actively oppose the people, parties and ideologies responsible.


Residents had been robbed of their voice long before the events of the June 14, their demands for improved safety regulations such as sprinklers, a car park that would have allowed for emergency service access, additional fire drills/exits etc were ignored. The Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) which was responsible for the upkeep of the tower chose to ignore these concerns and instead invested millions into improving the exterior aesthetics  of the tower, which existing in an affluent area was viewed as an eyesore to its wealthier neighbours. The concerns and property worth of the wealthy private renters and homeowners took precedence over the safety of over one hundred families. The aesthetic improvements included the addition of a material which may have resulted in the horrific scene of the flames rapidly spreading up the exterior of the building.


Nationally the antagonisms remain the same. A wealthy class of propertied mainly white individuals make the decisions that affect the vast majority. The conservative party remains committed to favouring the landlord over the tenant. Legislation that protects tenants and would have forced landlords to provide basic liveable conditions has been repeatedly voted down, the large percentage of landlords in the conservative party and in governmental institutions throughout  is the obvious reason for such decision making. Stormont itself is made up of a large proportion of MLAs profiting in the rental business either through direct involvement or close family and in such circumstances can the people of the North expect any better?


Republican Network for Unity praise the quick reactions of local community groups and voluntary organisations that provided information, support and supplies to the victims. A fact that, along with the mass death toll, appears to have been ignored by the pro-state media. Organisations such as the Al Manaar Islamic Centre, the Latymer Community Centre and the Westway Sports Centre worked together to provide relief. While the actions of the emergency services were nothing short of heroic, the absence of government officials was criticised by residents. A lesson should be drawn from the display of unity between church and mosque, between residents that organised quickly and efficiently out of necessity and genuine concern. One example of this is the transport system hastily organised by a resident, making use of crates and trolleys to provide necessities to survivors as quickly as possible. Without the leadership of elected officials these people organised themselves. They were forced to act together for their own collective interest and concern, a noble example of petty differences such as race and religion being ignored for the collective good.


There are many parallels between the working class in areas like Belfast and the working class of Kensington. Dilapidated flats, chronic poverty and underinvestment and politics that favour the privileged. This is the status quo in which we exist and as a class it is in our interest to completely disempower all those that represent an obstacle to our shared interests. Hundreds are dead as a result of politics favouring the wealthy over the working class, one MP branding it “corporate manslaughter”,  no lip service or empty promise will change this fact nor will any policy implemented by this same political cadre provide a permanent guarantee to securing adequate living conditions for the poorer sections of society. The only form of government which will provide this is one in which the working class hold a monopoly of power, the majority cannot depend on the wealthy minority to represent and act in their interests.