How did a council block in the UK’s richest borough, refurbished just a year earlier, come to be engulfed in flames that swept from its 4th floor to the 24th floor in less than 30 minutes? Why did 72 people die? Simply, because, throughout the refurbishment process, it was profit at any cost.
The public inquiry set up by the government to investigate the tragedy is currently in Phase Two, focusing on how the building came to be a death-trap. To date the inquiry has cost £149 million. There is plenty of profit for the assembled barristers and solicitors. The obvious answer where the blame lies – which the inquiry will not consider, of course – is capitalism: commodity production and exchange for profit. The final report is not due until 2023.
And profits are still being made by developers and contractors who had clad similar buildings throughout the country. Britain’s major house builders have made billions of pounds in profits since the Grenfell Tower fire – and handed vast sums to shareholders. A report by the DAILY MAIL, not known for its critique of capitalism, showed the eight biggest listed housing developers have made £21 billion since the deadly inferno in 2017.
Persimmon, the largest Stock Exchange listed house builder by market capital, made nearly £4.9 billion in profits. In 2019, a review found some of Persimmon homes had exposed residents to an ‘intolerable’ fire risk due to poor construction and management control. Human needs are only met under capitalism to the extent it can be paid for. The working class, as a consequence, only receive second rate housing compared to the rich (DAILY MAIL January 2022).
The Grenfell Fire inquiry found that the cladding on the building’s exterior did not comply with building regulations and was the key reason behind the fire’s spread, sparking a rush to remove similar cladding from buildings across the country. The crisis has trapped many homeowners in dangerous properties they cannot sell as banks and finance houses will not let would-be buyers take out mortgages due to the safety hazard. In short, as market assets they are unprofitable.
It is extremely doubtful that capitalism and a criticism of the profit system – the social system in which we live - will find its way in the final report. The last thing the government wants from the inquiry is for the profit system to be criticised.
The inquiry has shown that cladding suppliers cheated fire tests and provided misleading information to those, like architects, on the specification of the products, all for the pursuit of profit. They were even accused after the fire and deaths of hiring a PR firm to lobby to stop any ban of their products for use in high rise buildings and threatened litigation to anyone who questioned the safety of their commodities. These companies were only motivated by profit.
Criticism for cutting corners by several businesses supplying cladding materials for profitable advantage might see the light of day in the report but capitalism will not be named and shamed. There will be no criticism of the profit system. The profit motive, the need to accumulate capital will get off scot free.
Capitalism is the elephant in the room which the survivors and bereaved seeking “justice” also refuse to see. Capitalism has to be understood and rejected. Until capitalism is abolished politically and democratically by a socialist majority Grenfell Towers will still occur in the future.
Phase Two of the ongoing inquiry has examined the process whereby companies started producing and selling highly flammable cladding for use on residential buildings.
The facts presented to the inquiry help shed light on the ugly reality of capitalism, including the relentless drive by companies to cut costs, regardless of the consequences.
We are told that capitalist competition and the profit motive is the engine of progress and technological development. But in reality, the drive to accumulate profits comes at the expense of all else – including workers’ lives.
Marx was aware of this. In CAPITAL he remarked:
“Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets!...accumulate for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake... “
(CAPITAL VOLUME 1, Chapter. XXIV, p.595)
Capitalism drives the capitalist to accumulate. Competition forces the capitalist to accumulate to survive. The capitalist’s objective is to maximise profits, increase their power over workers, and to accumulate to survive in a competitive world. Such an analysis of capitalism and its profit motive will not be found in the final Grenfell Fire report. Capitalism is not questioned. It as though it does not exist.
In the years leading up to the Grenfell fire, capitalist competition drove the race by companies to adopt more and more dangerous and flammable cladding materials; to adopt misleading advertising; and to manipulate and distort fire tests.
With the switch from zinc to flammable ACM cladding, the Tory council got the ‘regeneration’ of Grenfell on the cheap. The Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) saved £293,368. Money not safety was their principle consideration.
Rydon, the building contractor, who misinformed their client on the savings, made £126,000 profit.
And Arconic, the cladding manufacturer, made a third more in profit compared to the fire-resistant alternative. The firm that supplied the cladding used on Grenfell Tower has reported higher than expected profits. Arconic made profits of £162m in the three months to the end of June - the period including the 14 June fire that killed the 72 residents (INDEPENDENT 27 July 2017).
The great ‘innovation’ of Kingspan, of Arconic, of Celotex was to exchange non-flammable and costly building materials like zinc, for the cheap by-product of other industrial processes – a flammable and toxic plastic which behaved like ‘petrol’.
Jonathan Roper, who worked for Celotex spoke about the strategies employed in the name of profit that contributed to the use of dangerous materials on high-rise buildings. These strategies were to mis-inform, tell lies, and hide the truth.
Profit and profitability were all that mattered. As the GUARDIAN pointed out:
“(Celotex) was soon taken over by French multinational Saint-Gobain, which was demanding an increase in profits, 15% of which was to come from new products”
(WHO WAS TO BLAME FOR GRENFELL, Robert Booth, 14 June 2022).
In this difference between safe and unsafe cladding materials, between flammable and inflammable products, were the profits for these businesses and their shareholders and board of directors.
All because of this, 72 of Grenfell’s residents lost their live. So, capitalism is to blame not scapegoats, whether fire fighters, architects, building inspectors and workers having to ensure the company they work for make a profit under intense competition. Capitalism is the cause of the economic and social problems that afflict the workers today.
The conclusion to the report should be for the working class majority to replace the profit system with common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by all of society. It should recommend replacing capitalism with socialism. That is: replacing production for profit for production directly to meet human need.
Object and Declaration of Principles
The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.
Declaration of Principles
THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN HOLDS:
1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.
2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.
3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.
4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.
5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.
6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.
7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.
8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.