The horrific fire at Grenfell Tower, which killed so many working-class families in their homes, demonstrated the terrible reality of housing in Britain today.
In the richest ‘Royal’ borough of Kensington & Chelsea, with house prices over 38 times the average annual salary, workers ultimately died because flammable cladding cost the borough, the KCTMO and their subcontractors a mere £5,000 less.
The unnecessary cladding, which would have saved residents minor amounts on their fuel bills, had the effect of prettifying the tower for the surrounding neighbourhood of luxury properties, and raising the value of nearby council-owned land.
Kensington and Chelsea council spent £8.6m on the ‘refurbishment’ of the tower, while ignoring, or rather hiring companies to ignore, the needs of residents.
The Grenfell Action Group has comprehensively documented problems and complaints made to the council over the preceding years, including power surges and faulty wiring.
Grenfell is part of the social cleansing of London, which has already seen thousands of families conned or evicted from their homes in London to make way for the property developers, who build investment opportunities for the super-wealthy. Around 1,400 homes in the borough remain empty year-round, at a combined value of £664m, with house prices in Kensington and Chelsea tripling in the past two decades.
No inquest or inquiry into Grenfell will provide justice for the dead, or security for the survivors. While some companies, CEOs, and public officials may receive fines and jail time, and some survivors have been housed in new luxury flats, the reality is that the working class in Britain will never have safe, affordable, and secure housing while the capitalist system remains.
“When one individual inflicts bodily injury upon another such that death results, we call the deed manslaughter; when the assailant knew in advance that the injury would be fatal, we call his deed murder. But when society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; when it deprives thousands of the necessaries of life, places them under conditions in which they cannot live – forces them, through the strong arm of the law, to remain in such conditions until that death ensues which is the inevitable consequence – knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to remain, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual.” (F Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, 1845)
We all need somewhere to live; we all dream of owning our own home, our own small parcel of land – because under the prevailing economic climate, that seems to represent ‘security and financial liberation’. But do we stop to ask ourselves from whom?
The reality is that owning the housing stock, and controlling where we live is an industry controlled by finance capital. Even those lucky enough to afford mortgages will be forced, via this financial instrument, to work their entire lives for the billionaire controllers of finance capital.
Whether renting or ‘owning’, this necessity of life is used to subject us to the will of the capitalist class.
The deaths in Grenfell are a product of the murder of social housing in Britain – by Tory and Labour administrations – and a terrible product of the deepening financial crisis of capitalism, trailing austerity and war in its wake.
Perversely, Grenfell is also likely – under the rule of the capitaists – to be used as an excuse to accelerate the social cleansing of London and the decline of social housing stock. First run it down to the point of murdering residents, then declare it unsafe – and close it.
Privatising council housing is a racket from which billions are to be made. Whether or not the billionaires lit the fuse that started the conflagration that martyred our working-class brothers and sisters living in Grenfell Tower, as many local residents suspect, the chain of causality, and of financial benefit, leads surely back to the capitalists and their entire rotten system.
Capitalism stands convicted of the Grenfell atrocity. The only way justice can be done for these and countless other victims of capitalism is to organise to end the system of wage slavery once and for all.