Saturday, June 24, 2017

Grenfell victims demand justice

IN THE 1990s Tory grandee Lord Heseltine declared that his party would make “a bonfire of red tape” – getting rid of rules and regulations that hindered maximum profit-making and including health and safety regulations.
In 2009 Boris Johnson, as mayor of London, declared that “safety fears” were “making the UK safe for extremely stupid people”.
And in 2011 the then Prime Minister David Cameron said: “I will kill off safety culture; we need to realise, collectively, that we cannot eliminate risk and that some accidents are inevitable.”
On Wednesday morning 14th of June we saw the terrible consequences of their endeavours as the giant Grenfell tower block in Kensington became a flaming inferno in a very short time, because in a cheap cosmetic ‘renovation’ two years ago it had been fitted with flammable plastic and aluminium cladding. This type of cladding has been involved in several fatal fires and is now banned in many countries.
The block was owned by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), but control and administration had been outsourced to the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) who supposedly manage all social housing in RBKC on the Council’s behalf.
Responsibility for fire safety inspections was also transferred to KCTMO from the fire brigade as Boris Johnson was making drastic cuts to the London Fire Service.
Tenants had complained for years, over and over again, about fire safety issues and dangerous electrical surges that destroyed some of their appliances. They formed the Grenfell Action Group (GAG) and ended up being threatened with arrest if they did not stop “harassing” the council and its agents.
All our warnings fell on deaf ears and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time,” they said.
The fire that started it all was a small one in a kitchen, which the fire brigade dealt with quickly. They were packing up ready to go when they noticed that the cladding on the outside of the building had caught alight.
From there it quickly turned into the worst fire disaster in Britain since the Blitz. No one is certain about the total number of deaths. The media are giving an estimated number of 79, but local residents and survivors say that the figure is much higher. Firefighters were unable to reach the top eight floors of the 24-storey building and informal estimates of those still missing are in the hundreds.
Since the fire, both the RBKC and KCTMO have effectively gone into hiding. It has been left to local charities, churches and mosques to provide emergency accommodation for survivors. Local residents and retailers rallied round at once providing much-needed bottled drinking water, food, clothing, toiletries and other necessities for those who had nothing but their nightwear.
They waited in vain for council officials to turn up to arrange accommodation and help, until eventually neighbouring local authorities stepped in to the breach. Kensington and Chelsea is the richest borough in the country, but it has totally failed its low income tenants and seems to be paralysed.
The survivors, friends and neighbours descended on the town hall in a rage rarely seen in Britain to demand justice for the victims – but rather than come out and meet them the council boarded up its building and hid.
In the same way, Prime Minister Theresa May has seemed afraid to meet the angry bereaved. The newly elected Labour MP Emma Dent Coad and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn visited the scene and were able to bring some genuine comfort and sympathy to the survivors.
Corbyn has demanded that empty luxury properties in the borough bought purely as investments should be commandeered to house those who have lost their homes but May has rejected the idea out of hand.
The survivors desperately need to be rehoused within the borough and close together. They have a terrible process to go through in coming to terms with the tragedy and they will be able to comfort each other as no outsiders could. Yet they fear the council will use the opportunity to rehouse them far away, all around the country.
The firefighters too – who had to make terrible decisions about who to save and who to leave; who gave over their own breathing apparatus to victims on the verge of death and risked their own lives – will be haunted for life by the horror and they need help. But the London Fire Service has cut its counsellors down to just two.
The union Unite has promised to provide legal assistance for all survivors seeking justice. The union had many members living in that block.
We must demand that the council and its agents come out of hiding and face the survivors and the bereaved in court. We must also demand the Government fund local authorities throughout Britain to remove that fatal cladding from tower blocks wherever it is in place and fit sprinklers and fire alarms into all tower blocks.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Remembering Brian Haw

by New Worker correspondent

PEOPLE gathered in Parliament Square last Sunday to mark the sixth anniversary of the death of Brian Haw – the peace campaigner who spent almost a decade camped in the Square facing the House of Commons with an array of placards, posters, banners and a microphone reminding MPs of the horrors of war, especially to children.
In 2001 Brian Haw had been affected by the Mariam appeal and the effect of United States sanctions against Iraq on the children there, who could not get enough food or medicines for the cancers that resulted from the use of depleted Uranium weapons in the First Gulf War.
He said he could not face his own seven children if he did not do something, so he began his permanent protest on 2nd June, 2001 and maintained it until January 2001.
Brian Haw had to fight off many attempts by right-wing MPs and Westminster council to have him forcibly removed, and he was badly beaten up by police on more than one occasion. But he attracted the support of other peace campaigners who helped him with his battles, legal and physical, and some joined his camp for a while.
Brian was diagnosed with lung cancer in September 2010 and in January 2011 he left England for treatment in Berlin, funded by his supporters. He died there on 18th June 2011.
The memorial event was organised by Veterans for Peace.

Sinn Féin to confront a “despicable alliance of bigots”

By Theo Russell
veteran republican and ex-prisoner Francie Molloy speaking
The seven new Sinn Féin MPs from northern Ireland held a meeting for members and supporters last Wednesday at the London Irish Centre in Camden Town, attended by over 70 people despite less than 12-hours notice of the event being given.
The MPs, along with Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and MEP Martina Anderson, were also in London to sound alarm bells about the threat to the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) posed by the planned Tory–DUP [Democratic Unionist Party] deal.
It was clear from the MPs, and the mood of their supporters at the meeting, that they were up for a fight with the Tories and there would be some blunt speaking in their meetings with ministers.
The general election saw both the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the moderate nationalist Social Democratic & Labour Party (SDLP) wiped out at Westminster, and the Unionist vote dropping below 50 per cent for the first time ever in a Westminster election.
One item on the DUP’s wish list in its talks with the Tories is to block Westminster funding for MPs who don’t take up their seats, which if implemented would be a virtual declaration of war with Sinn Féin.
Chris Hazzard, Sinn Féin’s first ever MP in South Down, told the meeting that Sinn Féin would never drop its abstention policy, which was “part of the DNA and heritage” of the party, and said “the idea that we will give that up is pure fantasy”.
He also revealed that Sinn Féin had offered an electoral pact with the SDLP, “but this was rejected to their cost”.
Commenting on Tory attempts during the general election campaign to damage Jeremy Corbyn for his historic dealings with republicans, veteran MP and ex-Executive member Michelle Gildernew pointed out that Corbyn “was vilified for talking to us, not just the IRA.”
The GFA has been brought to the brink of almost total collapse through a combination of lack of interest by David Cameron and, as Chris Hazzard put it, “growing accusations of corruption and back-room deals by the DUP” that brought the Northern Ireland Executive down last March.
Gerry Adams said he told the British Prime Minister Theresa May that “she and her government are in default of the Good Friday Agreement, and that they have turned a blind eye to the disruptive actions of the DUP over a long time.”
The outgoing Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny has also warned that a Tory–DUP deal could pose a challenge to the peace process. But his successor, Leo Varadkar, said on Monday he was “very reassured” about the Irish government’s concerns after meeting Theresa May.
The cosy relationship between Tory northern Ireland ministers and the DUP since 2010 has seen major commitments promised under the 20-year-old GFA kicked into the long grass, whilst the DUP has slipped back into calling Sinn Féin representatives “IRA terrorists” as if the peace process had never happened.
Sinn Féin has called for DUP leader Arlene Foster to resign before it will re-join the executive, and Hazzard said that the party would only do so on the basis of “respect, integrity and equality”. He also stressed, to loud applause, that “the Orange State is dead and buried, and it can never come back again”.
The fighting mood of the meeting was summed up in a question from the floor by a factory worker and Sinn Féin member from Waterford in the Irish Republic, who denounced the Tory–DUP deal and asked: “How are we going to rid ourselves of this despicable alliance of bigots?”