The horrific fire at Grenfell Tower, which has killed so many working-class people, demonstrates the terrible reality of housing in Britain today.
In the richest borough, with house prices over 38 times more than the average annual salary, people ultimately died because flammable cladding cost the borough and construction companies 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 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…“
- Condition of the Working Class in England, Engels, 1845