Monday, August 07, 2017

Grenfell Tower

Tragedy reveals vicious class war of the rich against the rest

By Theo Russell

Extraordinary events have taken place in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Britain’s wealthiest borough, in the weeks since the Grenfell Tower tragedy: a town hall invasion, the resignations of the borough's Chief Executive and Tory Council Leader, and the Tory-led council under siege from every side.
These events followed close on the heels of the election of a Labour MP for the first time since the constituency was created in 1974.
But the Grenfell Tower fire has also had a massive political impact nationally, showing that the reality of the Tory austerity policy is a vicious class war being waged by the rich against the rest.
Grenfell, together with Labour's superb general election campaign, which made austerity the number one issue, has helped to trigger a national debate about endless cuts, inequality and class injustice.
Now Britain’s massive housing crisis, criminally high rents, rampant property speculation, and growing anger, especially in London, with ‘gentrification’ and ‘social cleansing’, are under the spotlight.
Finally, the Grenfell fire has exposed a deliberately created system that provides genuine health and safety for the rich but not for the poor. Endless chains of sub-contracting and downgrading of checks made a tragedy like Grenfell virtually inevitable, and the only surprise was the horrific form in which it came.

‘The regal poor of Kensington’

Grenfell was the main topic at a recent meeting of Kensington South Labour Party, which heard how this class war is being waged in Kensington and Chelsea, not only against the poorest in the community but against anyone getting in the way of insatiable property speculators. The council not only turned a blind eye to this but actively encouraged it, and now they are paying the price.
Long before this awful tragedy in which over 80 people died and many more were injured, the council had been trying to ‘retake’ the Grenfell estate, and if possible move its tenants out of the borough and sell it off to developers for eye-watering sums.
Even in the wealthiest parts of the borough, home-owners who bought properties long ago, and statutory tenants with controlled rents, have been bullied and intimidated by property developers, who threatened to take them to the High Court if they don't sell up for a third of the current market price.
Sadly many, especially the elderly, caved in at the threat of legal action instead of challenging these sharks in the courtroom, including one family resident for over 100 years. Such residents have been dubbed ‘the regal poor of Kensington’, living in ‘shabby gentility’.
No doubt their experiences contributed to the loss of the Tory Kensington MP in the general election, alongside the fact that so many local properties are owned by absentee speculators who don’t even bother to register to vote.
Despite public Tory claims to have built 690 low-cost housing units since 2010, in fact none have been built since 1980. As a result there is nowhere to re-house the Grenfell survivors in the borough, whilst thousands of other homeless families languish on the waiting list.
Most of the Grenfell survivors have been put in hotels and B&Bs, and many offered permanent housing far away from their workplaces and schools. Under immense political and public pressure, the council has pledged to buy new family houses for them but have not said where these will be.
The meeting heard that residents in a recent luxury flat development in the borough showed their naked class prejudice, complaining that placing Grenfell survivors there was “bringing the social level down”.
The meeting also heard of the desperate Tory attempts in Kensington to stave off Labour candidate Emma Dent Coad’s victory, which came two days and three recounts after the election. Tory so-called ‘golden thugs’ harassed and intimidated council staff, standing behind them issuing threats and accusations. Unable to accept the result, the Tories wanted a fourth recount and only gave in when Labour observers called in a senior lawyer who warned the ‘thugs’ that they could be prosecuted.

Sadiq Khan disappointment

Labour’s 2017 manifesto was very positive on housing, promising “the biggest council building programme for at least 30 years,” to allow councils to build new housing and to bring back long-term security for tenants. But the meeting also heard that the new London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s housing policy was proving a huge disappointment.
Khan said very little on housing in his 2016 election campaign, and now councils across London are eagerly awaiting his GLA [Greater London Assembly] housing and regeneration strategy – but this it seems has already been watered down. Khan has already approved new projects with only 6–7 per cent ‘affordable’ homes (these are at rents not far below private commercial levels).
Last year Khan was nominated Evening Standard Man of the Year by building company Berkeley Homes, who have been denounced by Greenwich Labour MP Clive Efford for "sheer naked greed and opportunism" for their £1bn redevelopment of Kidbrooke Village. Efford said: “We constantly hear of the demands of the developer but there's precious little about what they are doing for the local community."
Khan has also reneged on his campaign promise not to increase public transport fares in London, freezing only some fares but not those for the great majority of travelcard tube users. London’s tube fares are the highest in the world after eight successive years of increases under Tory Mayor Boris Johnson.
But the struggles for justice for the Grenfell survivors, and for a return to mass building of genuinely affordable homes, are now in full swing. Kensington South Labour Party, which is working closely with the Justice4Grenfell campaign, has called on members and supporters to maintain constant pressure on the council to ensure that the Grenfell survivors are not dispersed far and wide outside the borough.

Grenfell Tower

No Justice

THE SURVIVORS and bereaved families of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster are in shock and very angry. They know this tragedy was preventable and that residents had warned the landlord and Kensington and Chelsea council over and over again that the place was a dangerous fire hazard – and were told to stop being a nuisance. Now they know that the insulation cladding around that building was very flammable – even though there has been a law in London against using flammable materials in house construction passed in 1666 after the great fire of London.
Health and safety regulations have been weakened by the Tory government “war on red tape” but even so what remains of health and safety laws have been broken – by builders, planners, council officials – by people.
The council also totally failed to use its emergency reserves to provide help and support for the survivors – many of whom were left traumatised in just the night clothes they had on as they escaped from the inferno. The aid and support these people received came from local residents and shopkeepers, a mosque and various charities. The council went into hiding and refused to speak to an increasingly angry public.
Police last week said they believe that they have enough evidence to bring a case of corporate manslaughter against those who are guilty. But the Corporate Manslaughter Act of 2007 allows a corporation to be sued but no individuals in that corporation can be singled out for charges. If found guilty, the corporation gets fined but no one goes to jail. And the fines would be taken out of the coffers of the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. And guess who would suffer most from this cut in the council’s budget – the people needing support services from the council, including the surviving victims!
An inquiry is under-way, quickly set in place by Theresa May’s government, with an extremely narrow remit to investigate only what happened on the night – but even this may have to be suspended if court cases are brought.
The victims need and deserve justice – it is hard to recover from a crime like this whilst the criminals are still in office and still mainly looking after themselves. They need the guilty people to be in court and in jail. They need genuine remorse from the guilty. But everything in our justice system is rigged to prevent this happening.
The total number of dead is still a mystery, but since the tragedy 20 survivors have attempted suicide and four of them tragically succeeded. This crime is continuing to kill people.
This is not the first time that the British justice system has failed the victims of crime; 51 years ago in the mining village of Aberfan, 116 children and 28 adults died when an unstable colliery slag heap slid down a hill and engulfed the Pantglas Junior School.
The slag heap was unstable because it was sited on top of two natural springs – well known and marked on maps. The locals knew it was dangerous and said so but the National Coal Board (NCB), headed by Lord Robens, insisted on continuing to pile mountains of waste on this insecure base.
The disaster wiped out a generation of children from that small village. The lives of the bereaved families were devastated.
And there was the same anger that the people of Grenfell Tower are feeling now. There were inquiries, inquests and campaigns, and bit by bit over the last 50 years the NCB, which no longer exists, was forced to admit that the disaster was not down to natural causes.
We now know exactly what happened but no case was ever brought to court and no guilty person was ever charged.
And there are so many other instances: Hillsborough, the truth is finally out and the guilty have been named but they are not yet in jail. There have been thousands of unnecessary deaths in custody, especially of young black men; again the campaigns with varying degrees of success in finding the truth but still not one police officer in jail.
The British state guards its officers and agents well. They get away literally with murder and are never brought to account. And it is anger at this burning injustice that will, sooner or later, play a big role in bringing down that state.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Democratic Korea’s stupendous achievements

Dermot Hudson and James Taylor

By New Worker correspondent

The Chadswell Centre in central London once again became the venue for Korean solidarity activists gathering last weekend to commemorate the defeat of US imperialism and its lackeys in the Korean War, and to celebrate the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s successful launch of a new ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile]. Called by the Korean Friendship Association (KFA), the meeting was opened by Dermot Hudson who praised the launch that strengthens Democratic Korea’s nuclear deterrent capacity. He said: “The US imperialists are putting immense pressure on People's Korea and we must rally around DPRK and defend it.” The latest missile test showed that the DPRK can not only defend itself from US imperialism but can win a war for national reunification, a war to liberate south Korea from the colonial rule of US imperialism.”
Other speakers included Theo Russell from the Central Committee of the New Communist Party, and KFA activists Shaun Pickford and James Taylor. Sadly Prof Dr Harish Gupta of the International Institute of the Juche Idea could not join us but his paper, detailing the great feats achieved by Korean communist leader Kim Il Sung in liberating Korea from Japanese colonialism and later defeating the might of US-led imperialism in the Fatherland Liberation War, was read out.
As usual there was plenty of time for questions and general discussion, which continued over refreshments after the meeting ended.