Grenfell Fire demonsrators, 17.6.17, photo Mary Finch

Grenfell Fire demonsrators, 17.6.17, photo Mary Finch   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Pete Mason, East London Socialist Party

The tragic Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 people, is approaching its fourth anniversary on 14 June. Yet the fire at New Providence Wharf on 7 May was just ‘minutes’ away from being another Grenfell Tower disaster, a report claims.

Nothing symbolises the deep housing crisis more than the millions of people who sleep each night in fire-risk buildings. Defending the profits of the big building companies, the government has just voted down a cross-party amendment which aimed to ensure that homeowners are not made to pay for remediation.

Decades of government cuts, relaxation, deregulation and privatisation of the building inspections and safety regimes are to blame for the housing crisis.

Bellway Homes announced pre-tax profits of £237 million in 2020. The drive for profits cuts across concerns for safety. Our homes should not be in the hands of profit-driven building firms. The big builders should be nationalised with compensation paid only to those in proven need, all unsafe buildings immediately remediated, and a mass high-quality council housing programme established to set new standards in the building industry and end homelessness.

While millions of tenants in the private rented section are forced to move so often they are “nearly nomadic”, as Shelter puts it, leaseholders, having sunk their life savings into a flat, find that they are trapped in unsafe homes. Unable to move or sell, some face bankruptcy.

After the successful protests on the Barking Riverside estate in East London, joined by New Providence Wharf residents and three groups from other estates, the Barking Reach Residents Association raised the call for nationwide protests outside builders’ and developers’ sales offices on the 5 June.

This has received a big echo. Confirmed protests on the 5 June are taking place in Beckton Parkside, Royal Greenwich, Canary Wharf and Newham in London, Chipping Barnet, Hayes, Southend-on-Sea, Ipswich, Stevenage, Birmingham, Manchester Town Hall and George Street, and Cardiff. In some cases this will be residents’ first step onto the streets, their patience having run out.

The New Providence Wharf fire shows the urgency of stepping up the campaign. Campaigners must look further than cross-party support. The Socialist Party calls for the independent political organisation of the working class and its allies as the only way to ensure workers across all sections of society – both tenants and leaseholders – resolve the housing crisis in our interests. Cladding and leasehold campaigns should join with tenants and residents associations, the Fire Brigades Union and other sympathetic unions, housing organisations and campaign organisations, in organising a national delegate conference to debate a path to success, including proposals to build a national Saturday demonstration and participation in local elections in the spring.

The campaign says:

  • The government should pay
  • Builders and developers must immediately remediate
  • No costs to residents
  • Join the protests on 5 June