How the Poor Die

It is not easy to write about Grenfell. The sheer horror of it: the burning tower in the night, people jumping to their deaths; the babies thrown from windows in desperation; families on their mobile phones knowing they wont get out.

Socialist Worker

How the Poor Die

To write about it you have to think about it and the thinking hurts.
The matter is made worse by the fact that as I write, ten days after the fire, we still don’t know how many died. The official figure  – and it has been slowly but inexorably rising – is now 79. It may be higher when you read this. Of these only 9 have been confirmed identified.
Many local people are convinced that far more died – they fear that it may be hundreds.  This suspicion has been backed up by Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott.
When you look at the building which had 127 flats with 227 bedrooms and was densely inhabited and when you look at the speed and horror of the fire it looks all too likely that the toll is higher than being said.
This raises the suspicion that the figures have been drip fed by the authorities to minimise shock, rage and reaction on the streets. But we don’t know for sure.
And the uncertainty makes it hard to write because hard to get a proper measure of the tragedy in one’s head.
Yet is essential to write about it. It is essential because EVERYTHING about the fire, everything about its causes and its consequences, about the response of the authorities and of the people exposes the real nature of the world we live in – a world that relentlessly sacrifices people for profit.
There is the fact that the Grenfell residents had been warning for two years that they were living in a potential death trap and ignored by the Council. There is the probability  that the deadly cladding which caused the fire to spread so fast was added to improve the ugly appearance of the building for the benefit of the well-to-do neighbours. There is the fact that safer cladding was available and would only have cost about £5000 per apartment.
There is the fact that there were no sprinklers in the whole building and no fire escapes.
There is the fact that when concerns were raised with him about cutbacks in the London Fire Service, Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London  told the complainant to ‘Get Stuffed!’.
There is the fact that the post-fire response of the council was, as even Theresa May has been forced to admit, woeful. There is the fact that when Theresa May paid her ‘Official Visit’  she was too scared to meet the residents or survivors and they had to send the Queen to try to repair the damage.
There is the fact that May has announced a relief fund of only a pathetic £5 million, with payments of only £5,500 for each affected household. There is the fact that in contrast the response of the local community has been magnificent.
Then in what ought to be, the final insult, but probably isn’t, there is the report today that Rydon, the company behind the l refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, is about to get a £65million construction contract in west London.
According to industry publication, Construction News, this has been approved by Ealing Council’s cabinet..
Finally there is the crucial background fact that Grenfell Tower was in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, an area which encapsulates and condenses all the inequality and contradictions of neoliberal Britain. North Kensington, where Grenfell was, is one of the poorest, most deprived areas in the whole of the country; South Kensington and Chelsea  is one of the richest – the home of Harrods and the billionaires.
Are there sprinklers in Harrods? We don’t even have to ask, It is the poor who die like this never the rich.
Grenfell then shows us the reality of Tory Britain, austerity Britain, the Britain that is the legacy of the Mays, Johnsons, Camerons and Blairs.
But no one should imagine this is just about Britain. In Ireland we have had the Stardust Fire and the Carrickmines fire and continue to have, as anyone who knows housing or construction knows, countless buildings and homes seriously at risk in terms of health and safety. And they not in Foxrock or Dublin 4!
And today we hear of over 140 burned alive in Pakistan as villagers – poor people again – gathered fuel from a crashed tanker , and from China of 118 missing, presumed dead, from a mudslide in a village in Sichuan.
From Grenfell and Carrickmines to Sichuan, from earthquakes and floods to hurricanes and droughts the cruel logic of inquality and class shapes the death tolls.
This is the world we have to change.

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