Thursday, September 20, 2018

Mounting anger over Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Moyra Samuels speaking
By Theo Russell

Warnings of protests at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry were heard this week as anger and frustration mount over the direction of the inquiry at a meeting between the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the local community close to the site of the fire, the worst in the UK since the Blitz.
Frustration and anger is mounting at the direction of the inquiry, where the presiding judge initially refused to take any questions from community members.
Moyra Samuels of the Justice4Grenfell campaign received loud applause from survivors and local community members at the meeting last Tuesday when she said: “There should be protests outside the inquiry, to show the judge that people are not happy with it.”
Her call was backed up by Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, who said: “If a total ban on the use of external flammable cladding is not announced, maybe we should start protesting against the inquiry.”
Samuels told the meeting: “We are a tough community but unfortunately we discovered that through the fire at Grenfell. We need truth, accountability, change and justice.”
She dubbed Kensington & Chelsea council, the richest in Britain, “the Royal Borough of Murder and Profit”, and said that “trust between the North Kensington community and the council had broken down long before the fire”.
“We were told by fire experts that the refurbishment of the Grenfell Tower was safe, yet now a QC has told the Inquiry that it was actually a death trap. We have discovered that profit is more important than people.”
Matt Wrack added that a parliamentary committee was warned as far back as 1999 that faulty cladding posed serious fire hazards.
Now the inquiry has heard from Angelo Lucchini, an Italian architectural engineer, that the cladding used at Grenfell was equivalent to dousing the building with 32,000 litres of petrol, “enough to fill approximately 600 cars”.
The FBU is calling for a total ban on flammable cladding, which is used for weather and sound proofing, yet incredibly so far the inquiry has shown no signs of calling for a total ban.
The government has admitted that the cladding used at Grenfell was unlawful, yet instead of calling for a complete ban is carrying out a consultation on the use of combustible materials, in which companies making the cladding will take part.
Matt Wrack told the meeting that “very powerful forces are lobbying against a ban, and they have the ear of the government”. These companies are part of a multi-billion pound building, construction and property industry.
Wrack said that before Grenfell no tests were conducted on combustible cladding, which has also been used on hundreds of blocks across Britain, but since the fire dozens of tests have all failed safety requirements.
He said the FBU is also calling for a thorough review of fire and building regulations, which have been gutted in the last 20 years, and cuts to fire brigades. In 2015–2016 there was a 15 per cent rise in fire deaths in London.
Ten fire stations and 600 firefighter posts were cut during Boris Johnson’s term as London Mayor. On the day of the tragedy firefighters had to call for assistance from neighbouring brigades, yet even then had to work in the tower for 12 hours or more with no chance of being relieved.
The FBU has complained to the inquiry about its choice of expert witnesses, who include the same Chief Fire Officers who supported service cuts and deregulation.
Fifteen months on from the fire many survivors are still in temporary accommodation. The day after the fire a survivor said the tower was an “accident waiting to happen”, adding: “For years they’ve abused our community.”
Concerns about the tower’s safety began years before the fire and in 2013 the council threatened Grenfell resident Edward Daffarn with legal action after he blogged about fire safety concerns, including power surges that caused computers and stereos to blow up filling rooms with smoke.
In a blog in November 2016 Daffam warned: "It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord."
Over 100 people living in the block told an emergency residents’ meeting on the Grenfell refurbishment in 2015 that the council’s Tenant Management Organisation and the contractors were “using cheap materials and cutting corners”.
The day after the tragedy one of the messages on the tribute wall nearby read “Justice for Grenfell. Jail those responsible”. That is still what the community is demanding, and they want the cladding contractors and the senior politicians responsible to be included.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Cleaners’ strikes spread after victory!

by New Worker correspondent

Cleaners working at Kensington & Chelsea town hall are celebrating a promise that they will get a pay rise and will be paid the London Living Wage.
The United Voices of the World (UVW) union said last Tuesday that the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBKC) had agreed to pay its cleaning staff a London Living Wage of £10.20 per hour from January 2019, instead of their current legal minimum wage of £7.83 per hour.
The UVW said that the Tory council leader Elizabeth Campbell and chief executive Barry Quirk said that the council would also look at early termination of a 10-year contract with the cleaners’ employer, Amey, and would try to get a retrospective pay rise staring from October.
The UVW organised three strike ballots, all with 100 per cent yes votes, started a fourth ballot, and carried out co-ordinated strikes over three days at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the RBKC.
Dozens of local labour movement activists joined the pickets at Kensington and the MoJ, including the new Labour MP for Kensington Emma Dent-Coad and shadow justice minister Richard Burgon.
Emma Dent-Coad told the strikers: “Solidarity with the employees of Amey to RBKC. Your determination (and a bit of salsa) has earned you an impressive victory. Now we fight for justice at the Ministry of Justice! Respect,” and Richard Burgon said it was “an absolute scandal that you are not being paid £10.20 an hour.
“£7.83 an hour is the legal minimum they can get away with paying you. They should value you more than that.”
On 23rd August, UVW also announced it would be joining forces with the PCS union in a strike for a London Living Wage for “cleaners, security and all outsourced and support staff” at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
A statement from the unions said: “The UVW and PCS union members at the MoJ and BEIS HQ are coming together for a joint rally and call out to their respective Secretaries of State to intervene and pay up!”, followed by a march from the MoJ to the BEIS.
The rally was joined by Labour front bench members Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and shadow BEIS minister Rebecca Long-Bailey.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Stand up to Zionist pressure!

by New Worker correspondent

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside Labour Party HQ in Victoria on Tuesday to call on the NEC to take the principled stand and refuse to bow to Zionist and Blairite pressure. But the  NEC decided to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-semitism in full with all its illustrative examples, including its conflation of anti-semitism with criticism of Israel.
The NEC said: “We recommend that we adopt the IHRA in full, with all examples. This does not in any way undermine the freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians. We re-invite organisations to engage in consultation on the Code of Conduct.”
A stronger, more specific statement, proposed by Jeremy Corbyn to protect those who describe the creation of Israel as ‘racist’, was withdrawn when it appeared it

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Defend Corbyn: Time to Fightback

Christine Blower opening the meeting
By New Worker correspondent
The Conway Hall was packed to the rafters this week to condemn the vicious efforts of the Blairites and Zionists  to undermine Jeremy Corbyn. Hundreds faced a barrage of abuse from a Zionist gang as they piled into the meeting in central London on Tuesday while a hundred more late-comers were turned away on safety grounds.
            Inside, the 400-strong audience heard speaker after speaker uphold the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and  slam the smears that brand Corbyn and the Labour left as “anti-semitic”. Called by the Corbyn, Antisemitism & Justice for Palestine campaign, the meeting was chaired by Christine Blower, a former teaching union leader and the panel included a number of well-known Palestinian and Jewish socialists as well as the author Tariq Ali.
Campaigners, including Lindsey German of the Stop the War coalition and Tariq Ali, called on the left to close ranks around Corbyn and defeat attempts to define any criticism of Israel as “anti-semitic”.
Richard Kuper of Jewish Voice for Labour said: “That the Corbyn project is under attack is in no doubt — from a large proportion of Labour’s MPS and a large proportion still of Labour’s bureaucracy…Labour is also under assault from the pro-Israel lobby which has been alarmed for some time about the prospect of a leader who is in favour of Palestinian rights”.
Huda Elmi,  who is running on the Corbyn slate in this year’s Labour NEC elections, said the mainstream media focus on ‘anti-semitism’ deliberately ignores the Palestinians. “The problem is Palestinians have been completely erased from it. They’re trying to subvert our ability to be loud and unapologetic about being anti-colonial”.
 “Talk about the human rights abuses against the Palestinians. We have to turn it back to that. We have stood consistently shoulder to shoulder with Palestinian people. We can’t take steps back from that.”