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posted 23 Jun 2017, 13:14 by Gerry Kangalee

Image result for grenfell towerThe pictures of the horrendous fire in the tower block in West London have hit the front pages of papers throughout the world. At the time of writing, nearly 80 people have been confirmed dead.

But we remain voyeurs at our peril.

Of course there will be a public inquiry. But it could take months and possibly years to determine why a 22 floor building with 120 apartments was engulfed in flames in such a short space of time.

Grenfell Tower is public housing; Much the same as HDC housing in Trinidad and Tobago.

In the past, the management of what is called council housing in the UK would have been undertaken directly by the Local Authority. They would have had their own Housing Department, their own Maintenance and Building Department, their own Architects Department. Only major work would have been contracted out and, even then, would have been overseen by the Local Authority.

Talk to any health and safety expert and you will find there is no one single cause of a major accident. The roots of an accident are very often built into past practice, shortcuts, poor performance, lack of maintenance or effective management.

Although it is still early days in identifying the cause of this particular fire, tenants’ activists, trade unions and the labour movement in the UK are already drawing attention to historical trends that may well have contributed significantly to this disaster.

Right wing neo-liberal politicians have always been banging the drum about the need to get rid of red tape because there are too many Regulations. Sounds familiar?

However, Regulations are in place to set minimum standards and very often have been introduced after a disaster where, in the very absence of Regulations, capitalists will be tempted to take shortcuts to increase their profits.

Already questions are being asked about the effects of deregulation that became popular under the Margaret Thatcher regime back in the 1970’s and have continued ever since.

A second factor that is being raised is the question of privatisation and outsourcing.

Instead of having a Housing Department to manage its housing stock, this Local Authority, like many others, has outsourced the management of its housing to a Tenant Management Organisation.  In turn, this organisation contracts out its maintenance and refurbishment to a private contractor who then subcontracts work to other contractors who will subcontract work yet again.

At each level there is increasing lack of control and oversight and an increasing tendency to use cheap materials, take shortcuts to find a quick and easy way of doing the work.

Then there is the question of cuts in public expenditure. Less money for infrastructure maintenance, cuts in the fire service, not enough money for health care are parts of an ongoing pattern of shifting wealth and resources from the public to the private sector - from the 99% to the 1%.

Whether the public inquiry into this tragic disaster highlights these issues remains to be seen. However, the labour movement and others in the UK has been raising these warnings for many years.

The victims of this tragedy were working-class tenants. The heroes were public service workers in the fire and ambulance services and medical staff in the public National Health Service. The villains are those representatives of the interests of private capital who put profits before people.

This trend of deregulation, contracting-out, privatisation and cuts in public expenditure is not unique to the UK. Far from it! It is a global policy of international capitalism. All reactionary politicians who advocate neo-liberal economic policies will repeat the mantra of smaller government and less taxation time and time again.

Trinidad and Tobago is not exempt as all the major political parties quite happily endorse neo-liberal economics and make sure their business friends get lucrative contracts.

It is only the working class, organised tenants and the labour movement that can ensure that disasters like the one that befell Grenfell Tower in West London are not repeated in Trinidad and Tobago. Let us not burn to learn