Thursday, 15 June 2017

For A Workers and Tenants Inquiry Into the Grenfell Tower Disaster

Phil is quite right when he says that the Grenfell Tower disaster is Class War.  This disaster is a direct result of years of Tory austerity, and playing up to the Rachmanite landlords, whose numbers have been massively swelled by all of the hype and incentives given by the state for the Buy To Let brigades.  As with the continued numbers of workers lives that are lost or destroyed in industrial accidents, or from industrial diseases, it gives the lie to the Tories and the gutter press onslaught against "Health and Safety Gone Mad!"

This kind of disaster occurs somewhere in the world every week, and as in this case, that somewhere is nearly always within workers communities, and often the poorest workers communities, not in those of the rich.  It is a direct result of treating workers like cattle, attempting to squash them into the cheapest, least extensive spaces possible.  Britain has vast amounts of open space.  There is twice as much of the country taken up by golf courses as there is by private residences!  Yet, Britain has the smallest property sizes anywhere in Europe, and we are still being told the country is overcrowded, that the Green Belt has to be maintained, rather than providing workers with the decent living space they need.

The government, and the other representatives of the capitalist and landlord class will try to sweep this under the carpet as soon as they can.  There will be a big hue and cry over this one tragic event, but by that precise means they will try to present it as an unusual event, rather than one that we can expect with greater regularity unless something is done about it.  The residents in the building have said that they had complained to the Council many times, and been brushed off.  That indicates the basic problem where workers either as workers, or as, in this case tenants, do not own and control either the means of production, or their immediate environment.

Had the tenants in this building had real ownership and control over it, they would have acted immediately upon their concerns.  Indeed, had they owned and controlled the building collectively, they would have ensured that the work on the building would have been done properly, so as to ensure their safety, and well-being from the start.  Indeed, if workers as tenants were able to own and control their immediate environment, they probably would not choose to live in such buildings in the first place, and would instead work with other workers, organised as construction co-operatives, to create a decent and safe living environment in its place.

To stop the Tories, the Council and the landlords from sweeping this tragedy and its implications under the carpet, we need a Workers Inquiry, not just into this tragedy, and what led up to it, but into all of the other similar situations that workers find themselves in, as tenants.  The Fire Brigades Union, has all of the expertise required to undertake the investigation of what caused the fire and what enabled it to spread so quickly; the construction workers unions have the expertise to reveal what deficiencies in the building and maintenance work existed; UNISON should investigate why the Council and its officers did not pick up this problem, and why it was that tenants complaints and warnings had been brushed off; and the tenants in this tower, and all the others like it, via their tenants associations can provide background information on who knew what and when, and what the actions of the Council and landlords were that led up to it.

In fact, it indicates why we need to co-ordinate Tenants Associations across the country, to share information, and take collective actions, such as general co-ordinated national rent strikes demanding that all issues be addressed.  The Labour Party, with the TUC and residents Associations across the country should, indeed set a date, for a month long national rent strike, on the basis of a set of demands that councils deal with rogue private landlords, that they demand that all outstanding repairs are undertaken within that month and so on.

In the 1980's, Thatcher gave away vast swathes of state owned assets with her right to buy legislation, and Cameron introduced a similar right for Housing Association Tenants, even though Housing Associations are supposed to be non-state organisations.  As I suggested some time ago, Labour should reverse that process.  Labour should commit itself to giving all private tenants the same right to buy that council tenants were given.  They should enable all private tenants to buy the property they live in with the same 60% discounts that council tenants were given.  Labour should commit itself to working with the Co-operative Housing Federation, and using its National Investment Bank, to ensure that tenants are able to borrow the remaining 40% of the value of the property.  That is particularly important in cases such as this, where it makes sense for the tenants to form their own Housing Co-operative, so as to buy the building from the landlords.

It would also be a powerful means to start to address the question of Britain's Housing Crisis, by developing additional co-operatively owned and controlled properties, and estates, and to improve the environment and condition of the existing housing stock.

But, for now, as well as extending our sympathy to all those involved in this tragedy, and once again witnessing the tremendous spontaneous co-operative and compassionate response of ordinary people whenever such crises arise, we need to begin to organise our own workers and tenants inquiry into this slaughter, and to hold this responsible to account, whilst peparing to take action to prevent its recurrence.

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