2019 04 – In the Shadow of Grenfell

An Open Letter to the trade union and labour movement

In the Shadow of Grenfell

Support the survivors – Remember the dead – Defend the F.B.U.

Now the first stage of the inquiry into the fire at Grenfell Tower (June 2016) has ended, falsely focussed as it was on the role of the Fire Brigade and Rescue Service, the members of the FBU employed within it, every principled member of the broad trade union and labour movement needs to reflect on these developments and ask themselves some pointed questions, bearing in mind members of trade unions died in the fire, or were made homeless because of it. (Members of UNITE the Union and the RMT have been accounted for so far).

There is no escape from this need under the circumstances where the false focus on the inquiry commissioned by the government was taken as the uncritical basis for a programme broadcast by Channel 4 television ‘Grenfell: Did the Fire Brigade Fail?’ (Broadcast 18.2.2019). Viewers of the programme were led to believe, crudely, it did!

What was the purpose of this anti-historical approach and who benefits from it?

We consider Channel 4’s documentary was constructed to rubber stamp the official inquiry and deflect attention away from the real causes of the Grenfell tragedy: decades of health and safety deregulation, severe cuts in public services, including the Fire Brigade, outsourcing of responsibility to third parties to limit accountability and a culture where 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 thus isolated, the programme drove a wedge in between working people living in the building and the workers, (F.B.U. members), whose job was to rescue them. And all under conditions where the Fire Brigades budget nationally is subject to cuts in the years ahead while demands on its services increase due to events such as wildfires in rural areas, even now in winter due to climate change.

How should the trade union and labour movement respond to these developments?

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 labour movement. The skills and knowledge to run them already exist within it. We need a television and radio service not merely to defend members’ interests against assaults from government and the mainstream media, but rather to 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 trades unions, trades councils to link up with the F.B.U. to initiate community-based projects to identify and defend those at risk: tenants, school children, the disabled. As well as council housing and emergency services. We all need to be educated concerning these matters threatening our communities.

More than this, we need an international campaign to identify the source of manufacture of inflammable materials used in construction and domestic goods – and stop transportation of them. Because the tragedy of Grenfell does not stop at the boundaries of North Kensington: its shadow is cast across the world!

UNITE the Union branch SE/6246 Brighton

Chair: Ian Harrison

Secretary: Ben Armstrong