NOW THE FIRST STAGE of the official enquiry into the fire at Grenfell Tower has ended, every principled member of the trade union and labour movement needs to ask some pointed questions.
The inquiry commissioned by the government falsely focused on the role of the Fire Brigade and the members of the FBU. This focus was taken as the uncritical basis for a programme broadcast by Channel 4 on 18th February, Grenfell: did the Fire Brigade fail? Viewers of the programme were led to believe it did.
What was the purpose of this antihistorical approach and who benefits from it? The documentary broadcast by Channel 4 was constructed to deflect attention away from the real causes of the Grenfell tragedy: decades of health and safety deregulation, severe cuts to public services, including to the Fire Brigade, outsourcing of key management responsibility to third parties to limit accountability, and a culture in which the needs and safety of working class people are subservient to the need for profit.
No mention was made of the 400 plus council-owned buildings identified by experts as “similarly at risk”. With Grenfell isolated, the programme drove a wedge between working people living in the building and the workers (FBU members) whose job was to rescue them.
And all this under conditions where the Fire Brigade’s budget is still subject to cuts in the years ahead.
The failure of Channel 4 to reveal the neglect of the working class serves to underline a deep division in society that cries out for a response from the whole trade union and labour movement. We need media platforms under the ownership and control of the movement - the skills and expertise already exist within it - that do not merely defend members’ interests against assaults from the mainstream media, but rather enable working people to become the subject of their own development. The escalating bias of the mainstream media must be kept in check.
We urgently need trade unions and trades councils to link up with the FBU to initiate community-based projects to identify those at risk and defend tenants, the disabled and council housing, as well as emergency services.
We need an international campaign to identify the source of manufacture of inflammable materials used in construction and domestic goods and to stop the transportation of them.
The tragedy of Grenfell does not stop at the boundaries of North Kensington. Its shadow is cast across the world.
East Worthing CLP and Unite (Ian Harrison), Hove CLP and Unite (Ben Armstrong)