Campaigners marked the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire with public demonstrations and resolute promises to fight for justice.
On Thursday 14 June, at least 12,000 people marched through Ladbroke Grove on the silent walk that has commemorated the victims of the fire every month since the terrible fire, which cost 72 people their lives and directly affected thousands of others. Then on Saturday 16 June, the Justice for Grenfell campaign and the Fire Brigades Union organised a rally outside Downing Street to point the finger of blame where it ultimately belongs — with central government and its policies on social housing, austerity and deregulation.
Although the mood was understandably sombre, the silent march was characterised by deep solidarity between the diverse participants, who included the bereaved, survivors and residents of Grenfell, alongside firefighters, other workers and Labour Party members. The walk was led by young people and escorted by local bikers. Justice for Grenfell campaign placards, banners and a sea of green scarves set the tone of the silent walk.
Just past the tube station and the Westway flyover, firefighters formed a guard of honour in support of the walk, as they have done from the beginning. Hundreds queued to embrace firefighters, some of whom had intervened on the night of the fire. Local people recognised that firefighters were the only people on the night running towards the fire and played an incredible role in rescuing and evacuating as many people as they could.
This theme was taken up at the rally at Downing Street. Grenfell residents and campaigners hit out at media attempts to divide those who were present on the night. They rejected the twisted logic of armchair commentators who blame firefighters for the fire, while excusing the negligence of the council, the TMO and the profiteers who put up the cladding that turned the single flat fire into an inferno. Grenfell campaigners made their feelings clear by chanting “Theresa May, we don’t trust you — we trust the FBU”.
This week, the public inquiry resumes with some of the academic experts presenting their initial findings.
One report suggests that there was a window of opportunity in the first 45 minutes to evacuate residents, particularly after the fire had broken out of the flat of origin and spread up the East side of the building.
However other reports show some of the difficulties in carrying out a simultaneous evacuation: the lobbies and stairs were smoke logged, the stairs barely a metre wide, there was no central means of communication with residents. There were only about two dozen firefighters on scene at that stage, and they were trying to stop the fire spreading. There were many unknowns – the building could have housed 600 people (in fact it was half that number) and no one knew how many of those in the building were unable to move themselves and required assistance.
Firefighters faced an impossible situation. Advising people to get out could have sent more to certain death in toxic smoke. A panicked evacuation could have crushed dozens in narrow stairwells and trapped others from escaping.
Almost all the fire safety measures that should have been in place failed — windows and doors, the ventilation system and the lifts, the water supply and the gas — nothing worked as it was supposed to. And they faced a fire
spread by dangerous cladding that never should have been installed and which ultimately caused those deaths.
The Grenfell Tower inquiry will take years to complete its work. Campaigners do not believe the ruling class will deliver justice. However this week underlined their determination to fight, both on the immediate issues of the fire but also against the systemic and institutional power structure that allowed this fire to happen. They will do that alongside workers, particularly the firefighters.
This is struggle every socialist should rally around.