Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Disaster Capitalism

As the tragedy of Grenfell Tower continues to unfold, we are reminded of the saying that we are always wiser after the event. The post-mortems on why this blaze took so many lives are now being conducted by the media and then there will be the official inquests determining causes and apportioning blame. The usual refrain after such disasters is “Never Again” yet there is always another avoidable catastrophe.

In November 2016 residents wrote on the Grenfell Action Group website that they feared such a fire could break out and warned of the potential for a "major disaster".Following the fire, the group posted: "All our warnings fell on deaf ears and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time."

Architect and fire expert Sam Webb surveyed hundreds of residential tower blocks across the country in the early 1990s and presented a damning report to the Home Office, which revealed that more than half of the buildings didn’t meet basic fire safety standards. Webb described hundreds of tower blocks across the UK were, “A disaster waiting to happen... are still wrapping postwar high-rise buildings in highly flammable materials and leaving them without sprinkler systems installed, then being surprised when they burn down.” 

 2015 survey by the Fire Sector Federation, a forum for fire and rescue organisations, found that 92% of its members believed the regulations were “long overdue an overhaul”, claiming that they do not reflect today’s design and construction methods and that research underpinning the guidance is out of date. The coroner in the Lakanal House case also called for a review of part B, as the evidence pointed to a risk of further deaths in the future unless changes were made, with about 4,000 tower blocks in the UK remaining subject to outdated regulations.

Dr. Jim Glocking, technical director of the Fire Protection Association (FPA), thinks  “We really are forgetting the lessons of the past. I think the inexcusable element here is that with cladding or insulation there are choices. There will be a perfectly good non-combustible choice that can be made, but somebody is not making those calls. It’s a tragedy that long-awaited changes to regulations usually only happen after a significant loss of life.”

For socialists, the guilty party has already been identified. Capitalism. Cheaper less safe materials used to cut costs. Preventative equipment such as a sprinkler system not installed because of expense. The priority in capitalism is rarely health and safety but always the project budget and the account ledger. 

A socialist society may well not stop fires breaking out but it will guarantee a less death toll from them. Fires are inevitable, but the loss of life is not. In events such as the Grenfell inferno, volunteers are never slow to offer assistance for we are endowed with the ability to sympathise and empathise with our fellow humans and we are at their best when faced with the worst and will go to extraordinary lengths to help alleviate the suffering of others. The history of capitalism is littered with the unnecessary and avoidable deaths of the working class. Instead of carefully assessing risks and consciously accepting them, those in power close their mind in advance to the consequences of their cost-cutting and will rationalise the risks into an acceptable factor. It is a problem that is out of sight, out of mind – until disaster strikes – and then it is a matter of denying or minimising responsibility and passing the buck. We have also witnessed it before, haven't we?


gray said...

The disaster really does show the nature of capitalism.

This is Kensington, normally associated with the well healed. The high rise was part of "poor" Kensington, i.e. a working class area. It is becoming increasingly clear, watching Sky News, that survivors and the surrounding community - at least those interviewed - have put the issue in class terms.

Dave said...

I bet the penthouse flats for the rich have safety procedures and fire sprinklers.

Gwynn Thomas said...

Prime Minister David Cameron said five years ago that his new year's resolution was to "kill off the health and safety culture for good".
Health and safety legislation has become an "albatross around the neck of British businesses", costing them billions of pounds a year and leaving entrepreneurs in fear of speculative claims, he said.
'We need to realise, collectively, that we cannot eliminate risk and that some accidents are inevitable,' [ PM David Cameron. The Independent Thursday 5 January 2012]