Category Archives: Grenfell Tower

The Poison of Commercialization and Social Injustice

In cities and towns from New Delhi to New York the socio-political policies that led to the Grenfell Tower disaster in west London are being repeated: redevelopment and gentrification, the influx of corporate money and the expelling of the poor, including families that have lived in an area for generations. To this, add austerity, the privatization of public services and the annihilation of social housing and a cocktail of interconnected causes takes shape. Communities break up, independent businesses gradually close down, diversity disappears and another neighbourhood is absorbed within the expensive homogenized collective.

People living in developed industrialized countries suffer most acutely, but developed nations are also being subjected to the same violent methodology of division and injustice that led to the murder of probably hundreds of innocent people in Grenfell Tower.

The rabid spread of corporate globalization has allowed the poison of commercialization to be injected into the fabric of virtually every country in the world, including developing nations.

As neoliberal policies are exchanged for debt relief and so-called ‘investment’, which is little more than exploitation, the problems of the North infiltrate the South. Economic cultural colonization smiles and shakes hands, wears a suit and causes fewer deaths than the traditional method of control and pillaging, but it is just as pernicious and corrosive.

In the Neo-Liberal world of commercialization everything is regarded as a commodity. Whole countries are regarded as little more than marketplaces in which to sell an infinite amount of stuff, often poorly made, most of which is not needed. In this twenty-first century nightmare that is choking the life out of people everywhere, human beings are regarded not as individuals with particular outlooks fostered by differing traditions, backgrounds and cultures; with concerns and rights, potential and gifts and heartfelt aspirations, but consumers with differing degrees of worth based on the size of their bank account and their capacity to buy the corporate-made artifacts that litter the cathedrals of consumerism in cities north, south, east and west.

Those with empty pockets and scant prospects have no voice and, as Grenfell proves, are routinely ignored; choices and opportunities are few, and whilst human rights are declared to be universal, the essentials of living — shelter, food, education and health care — are often denied them. Within the land of money, such rights are dependent not on human need but on the ability to pay, and when these rights are offered to those living in poverty or virtual poverty, it is in the form of second and third rate housing, unhealthy food, poorly funded and under-staffed education and health services. After all, you get what you pay for; if you pay little, don’t expect much, least of all respect.

The commercialization of all aspects of our lives is the inevitable, albeit extreme consequence of an economic model governed by profit, fed by consumption and maintained through the constant agitation of desire. Pleasure is sold as happiness, desire poured into the empty space where love and compassion should be, anxiety and depression ensured. But there’s a pill for that, sold by one or other of the major benefactors of the whole sordid pantomime, the pharmaceutical companies. Corporations, huge and getting bigger, are the faceless commercial monsters who own everything and want to own more; they want to own you and me, to determine how we think and what we do. These faceless corporate entities are given rights equivalent to nations and in some cases more; they have incalculable financial wealth and with it political power. They devour everything and everyone in their path to the Altar of Abundance, assimilate that which springs into life outside their field of control and consolidate any organization which threatens their dominance.

Commercialization is a headless monster devoid of human kindness and empathy. It sits within an unjust economic system that has created unprecedented levels of inequality, with colossal wealth concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer men (the zillionaires are all men), whilst half the world’s population attempts to survive on under $5 a day and the Earth cries out in agony: every river, sea and stream is polluted, deforestation is stripping huge areas of woodland, whole Eco-systems are being poisoned and the air we breathe is literally choking us to death. Apathy suffocates and comforts us, distractions seduce us and keep us drugged: “Staring at the screen so we don’t have to see the planet die. What we gonna do to wake up?” screams the wonderful British poet Kate Tempest in Tunnel Vision. “The myth of the individual has left us disconnected, lost, and pitiful.”

How bad must it get before we put an end to the insanity of it all? It has got to end; we can no longer continue to live in this fog. During a spellbinding performance of Europe is Lost at Glastonbury Festival, Tempest stood on the edge of the stage and called out, We are Lost, We are Lost, We are Lost”. We are lost because a world has been created based on false values — “all that is meaningless rules” — because the systems that govern our lives are inherently unjust, because we have been made to believe that competition and division is natural, that we are simply the body and are separate from one another, because corporate financial interests are placed above the needs of human beings and the health of the planet. Excess is championed, sufficiency laughed at, ambition and greed encouraged, uncertainty and mystery pushed aside. The house is burning, as the great teacher Krishnamurti put it, Our House, Our World — within and without — both have been violated, ravaged, and both need to be allowed to heal, to be washed clean by the purifying waters of social justice, trust and sharing.

Systemic external change proceeds from an internal shift in thinking — a change in consciousness, and whilst such a shift may appear difficult, I suggest it is well underway within vast numbers of people to varying degrees. For change to be sustainable it needs to be gradual but fundamental, and have the support of the overwhelming majority of people — not a mere 51% of the population.

Kindness begets kindness, just as violence begets violence. Create structures that are just and see the flowering of tolerance and unity within society; Sharing is absolutely key. After Grenfell hundreds of local people shared what they had, food, clothes, bedding; they shopped for the victims, filling trolleys with baby food, nappies and toiletries. This happens all over the world when there is a tragedy — people love to share; giving and cooperating are part of who we are, while competition and selfishness run contrary to our inherent nature, resulting in sickness of one kind or another, individual and collective.

Sharing is the answer to a great many of our problems and needs to be placed at the heart of a new approach to socio-economic living, locally, nationally, and globally. It is a unifying principle encouraging cooperation, which, unlike competition, brings people together and builds community. The fear of ‘the other’, of institutions and officials dissipates in such an environment, allowing trust to naturally come into being, and where trust exists much can be achieved. In the face of worldwide inequality and injustice the idea of sharing as an economic principle is gradually gaining ground, but the billions living in destitution and economic insecurity cannot wait, action is needed urgently; inaction and complacency feed into the hands of those who would resist change, and allows the status quo to remain intact.  We sleep so deep, it don’t matter how they shake us. If we can’t face it, we can’t escape it. But tonight the storm’s come,” says Kate Tempest in Tunnel Vision. Indeed, we are in the very eye of the storm, “The winter of our discontent’s upon us” and release will not be found within the corrupt ways of the past, but in new forms built on ancient truths of love and unity held within the heart of all mankind.

A Capitalist Inferno

Unsurprisingly, and not unreasonably, many people are looking for heads to roll as a result of the terrible fire that destroyed Grenfell Tower in London. It killed as yet unknown numbers of people, at least seventy nine so far. It was a fire that should never have happened. An excellent documentary about the tragedy by Panorama revealed that for the last few years many warnings had been given to the owners of the building, Kensington and Chelsea Council, warnings that fire precautions were inadequate and a tragedy waiting to happen, warnings which were all but totally ignored. At this moment in time the only head to roll is that of Nicholas Holgate, the CEO at the council – an employee.

It would seem that the rapid spread of the fire was due to a type of cladding that was applied to the outside of the building about a year ago. Apparently the cladding is a type that’s banned in the USA and much of Europe because of its flammable properties and, according to Chancellor Phillip Hammond, it’s banned here too; but that didn’t stop the council using it, or failing to remove it. Presumably other suitable, fireproof, materials are available. Presumably they’re much more expensive.

A lot of the righteous anger has been directed at Theresa May, as the ultimate figurehead leader carrying the can. But the fact is that the tragedy had little to do with May, and that her resignation would be less than useless, because the real culprit would then escape scot-free.

The fire was obviously a terrible, avoidable, tragedy. Some may be saying it was just a horrible accident, and we should move on. But what was not an accident, and cannot possibly be dismissed, was the total lack of state support for the surviving residents. What support there was, and it was truly heart-warming to see, came entirely from a spontaneous outpouring of sympathy and goodwill from local residents, supplying food, water, clothing, comfort. This was multiracial, multicultural, humane, compassionate Britain at its very best. But if the state did anything at all to immediately help the survivors (apart from the heroic efforts of the emergency services) it was very difficult to see. Where was the army? Where was “COBRA”?

The real perpetrator of this tragedy is a thing called capitalism, the economic policy of all Tory politicians – and some misguided Labour MPs too. Capitalism has always placed profit before people, and it always will. It’s useless having token heads roll, whether they belong to Nicholas Holgate or Theresa May. These are just sacrificial lambs, distracting attention away from the real villain. Capitalism is to blame, with its murderous austerity, cost-cutting corners, and profiteering millionaires, together with the Tory MPS and mainstream media who defend and promote it. But in the end, there’s no escaping the fact that the responsibility for this manmade tragedy, and many others like it – like illegal wars and the closing of Accident and Emergency departments all over the country – ultimately lies with those who keep voting for capitalist politicians.

Grenfell Tower Fire: Corporate Manslaughter in London

A massive fire engulfed Grenfell Tower in the early hours of June 14th. Grenfell Tower is a 24-storey building of public housing flats in the North Kensington area of London. Over 600 people were believed to be inside the building and there are fears that the death toll, currently at 58, will rise to over a 100. This incident generated a wave of public anger over ignored safety warnings, an inadequate response from authorities, and most of all about the (housing) policies that safeguard corporate greed over the rights of the poor and working class, in this case their very lives. This was no accident – it was corporate manslaughter.

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Poor people make for a terrible view

In the immediate aftermath, and with the fire still blazing, incriminating elements started coming to light. First of all, the risks of fire had been brought up repeatedly by the tenants of Grenfell Tower and brushed aside by the landlord, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), and the local Tory council. In fact the Tory government has been time and again faced with the risks in these tower blocks, even dismissing an attempt last year by Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party to make houses safer as “unnecessary regulation.”

Adding to this, Grenfell Tower had a £10m refurbishment last year. During this refurbishment, an outside cladding was added to the building. It has been reported that this cladding burned incredibly quickly, spreading the fire to the upper floors. What was the reason for this addition? Improving the view from nearby luxury flats. And if this was not enough, it has come to light that it would have cost a mere 5000£ more to make these cladding panels fire-resistant. It is worth spelling this out. A deadly fire was made much worse, dozens of lives were lost, because rich homeowners did not like the view of poor people and a landlord wanted to cut corners with cheap materials.

This paints a clear picture of a government, both at national and local levels, whose policies and (loosened) regulations are meant to favour the wealthy and their real estate dealings. The gentrification and social cleansing of poor neighbourhoods in London to make room for expensive new property has been going on for decades now, driving people away and rent prices up.

The flames spread incredibly fast to the upper floors (photo by Guilhem Baker/LNP)

The current situation made even worse by a disastrously incompetent response from (local) authorities. While charities, volunteers and donations arrived swiftly on the scene, there was no coordination of their efforts from official bodies. Days after the fire there were families still sleeping on floors! Tory officials, London mayor Sadiq Khan, and especially Prime Minister Theresa May all caught the ire of Grenfell residents. May was criticised, and rightly so, for refusing to meet with the victims.

Marxists at large!1

For his part, Jeremy Corbyn was welcomed with open arms by the public, residents and grievers. His empathy is genuine and his track record of fighting for the rights of the “many” is unassailable. Corbyn’s growing popularity, despite a near-unanimous media siege, is due to the content of his policies, among which was the plan to build 500.000 houses in order to tackle the runaway rent and housing costs.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was on the scene to show support and solidarity with the victims

If a public display of solidarity and some political gain was all there was to it, the wealthy landlords from around the world who own property in London might have been able to sleep easily. But they were surely left in pale-faced terror by Corbyn’s suggestion/demand that Grenfell residents be rehoused in the vacant luxury properties in the neighbourhood!2

It is, in fact, quite obvious, once we look past capitalism’s defence of private property above all else, that the solution for families without a home are vacant houses. I would even go further and suggest that this solution of seizing empty luxury houses apply beyond the residents of Grenfell Tower so that homelessness and inadequate living conditions are solved instantaneously. One could even make a kind of reverse lottery out of it. Instead of a normal lottery where a random person gets rich, this time a random rich person gets slightly less rich and a poor, working-class family gets to live in proper conditions with an open-ended lease of 1£ a month.

A YouGov poll found that 59% of respondents supported Corbyn’s idea of requisitioning luxury properties in Kensington to house Grenfell Tower residents

Politics and class conscience

After the disastrous electoral gamble that forced the Conservatives into an alliance with the fundamentalists from the DUP, this episode and the inadequate response might be an opportunity for the Conservatives to get rid of Theresa May. But at this stage it will not solve all their problems.

The government (led by May or anybody else), the Conservative Party and the large sections of the Labour Party that oppose Jeremy Corbyn, even if they have been forced to jump on his bandwagon, will be hoping that all this public anger is funneled to the official channels. This will mean parliamentary inquiries, some officials stepping down, maybe even someone getting prosecuted for negligence.

What they cannot afford is for this anger to keep boiling up in the streets, with a Labour leadership that is as radical as it has ever been. People are beginning to realise more coherently that there is a concerted effort to sacrifice them in order to safeguard the luxury and privilege of the wealthy. They are, in other words, building class conscience, and this mobilisation and demand for justice may very well spiral away from the traditional, parliamentary ways of doing politics in the UK. And that is no doubt a frightening thought for capitalist elites.

• First published in Investig’Action

  1. After the exit polls from the recent general election were published, UKIP member (and former leadership hopeful) Suzanne Evans tweeted the following: “If this exit poll is correct, @Conservatives have had one of their worst nights ever. Hung parliament, Brexit at risk and Marxists at large.”
  2. Corbyn has doubled-down on the idea and the establishment media are running really scared!