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Is the Pope a Catholic?

THE GUARDIAN recently carried a headline: 'Jaw-Dropping evidence has exposed a business culture in which money comes first' (25 November 2020). This was in reference to the Grenfell public enquiry set-up to ascertain how and why 72 people were killed in a fire to a refurbished tower block of flats in North Kensington, West London on the 14th June 2017. In capitalism does profit come first? Is the Pope a Catholic?

At the enquiry, evidence was given from key witnesses employed by the insulation manufacturer Celotex, and e-mails sent by employees at the cladding company Arconic, that they were cheating and cutting corners to secure commercial advantage even though it was dangerous. The companies did not care for the consequences of their actions only the profit they were likely to make.

That profit was the motivating force of the companies should surprise no one. In a highly competitive industry, to steal an advantage over business competitors and corner the market goes on all the time. Capitalists want to produce their commodities as cheaply as possible.

According to the GUARDIAN, Celotex, the main supplier of the building's insulation, added fire resistant boards to a fire safety test to ensure its product would pass - and deliberately concealed what it had done. And the editorial went on to say:

"Kingspan insulation, the market leader with whom Celotex was trying to compete worked for years to persuade the National House Building Council to grant safety certificates. Internal emails reveal how this was described as "slow educating" the firm and boasted that it had been achieved without taking executives out drinking. Kingspan sold its foam insulation to at least 240 high-rise bocks...".

Kingspan saved itself from having to commission costly lobbyists and using free market institutes to bewail regulating capitalism. How many other rigged tests? How many other corners cut? We do not know. We only know when a Grenfell disaster occurs.

The risk taking was systematic and deliberate. And Celotex and Arconic were not the first and will not be the last to behave in this way. The profit motive and making huge amounts of money for their investors is the name of the game.

Celotex and Arconic join a long list of capitalists who have shown scant regard to human life.

Earlier this year a California judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay nearly $344m in penalties for deceptively marketing pelvic mesh devices for women, as the state attorney general accused the company of putting "profits ahead of the health of millions of women" (GUARDIAN 30 January 2020).

VW Diesel Volkswagen, pleaded guilty in 2015 to federal charges that included obstruction of justice and conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act. The company admitted that it had rigged nearly 600,000 Volkswagen and Audi vehicles sold in the United States to conceal excess emissions.

In 2009 the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer agreed to pay $2.3 billion to settle civil and criminal allegations that it had illegally marketed its painkiller Bextra, which has been withdrawn. It was the largest health care fraud settlement and the largest criminal fine of any kind ever. Now they are being lauded for their work in finding an antidote to the Covid 19 virus.

Then there was the Ford Pinto of the 1970s and 1980s. It was alleged that if it was hit by another car from the rear the doors would jam shut and the bomb-like rear gas tank would explode upon impact. Critics argued that before the Pinto was released to the public in 1970, Ford knew it was a potentially murderous poorly designed commodity. Only, instead of recalling the cars for safety retrofits, Ford ran a cost-benefit analysis on the matter and found it would be cheaper to pay off the possible lawsuits of crash victims in out-of-court settlements.

Then there are the years of tobacco denial causing cancer. Tobacco industry insiders by the mid 1950s clearly knew their product was dangerous. Asbestos was another product which killed tens of thousands of workers where the first medical article on the hazards of asbestos dust appeared in the BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL in 1924. Then there is the global warming denial which had been known in scientific circles as far back as 1896, and now the covid-19 denial caused by the expansion of oil palm plantations and wild meat markets. These are all hallmarks of profits instead of the health of people; more specifically members of the working class.

THE GUARDIAN asked the question whether the tragedy highlights how businesses do things under capitalism. There are few saints within the capitalist class. It questioned the increasing domination of markets by multinational companies far removed from the end users. And it questioned the private-equity owners with their intense focus on profit. What it did not question was the profit motive and capitalism.

Of course, the problem is the profit motive. THE GUARDIAN will not admit this. They think you can have capitalism without the effects of capitalism. THE GUARDIAN holds the utopian belief that you can have a regulated capitalism that meets the needs of all society. You can't. Capitalism runs in the interest of those who own the private means of production and distribution; the minority capitalist class.

Capitalism cannot be questioned. The Grenfell inquiry will not question the profit motive. Nor will it question capitalism. Individuals will be highlighted, blamed and punished. Recommendations will be made, politicians will promise to implement them but the recommendations will largely be ignored until the next Grenfell disaster.

All of society does not have democratic control over production and distribution. People do not get what they need because they are rationed by the wages system. More so with housing, where the cost of buying a house is out of reach of most workers who are instead forced to rent, lease or obtain a mortgage. Under capitalism the working class consumer is not king but is a dependent wage slave.

Following the Grenfell inquiry, tens of thousands of mostly young leaseholders are now stuck in inflammable buildings. There are thousands of Grenfell's around the country, with flammable cladding, flammable insulation and other major safety defects. The freeholders and developers do not care. The developers have made their profit while freeholders, often large property institutions, have plenty of wriggle room in the lease agreements, to off-load the responsibility of repair onto the lease holders; members of the working class. Their wages just do not cover the repairs.

Of course the lease holders not the only ones living in sub-standard buildings. The Building Services Engineer (July 29 2020), stated that one-third of all homes being rented fail to meet the Decent Home Standard. There are more than half a million overcrowded households in England, affecting one child in ten. The Royal College of Physicians suggests that, at a minimum, thousands of deaths per year are directly caused by pollutants in the air. All are consequences of the profit system. The end user of housing is irrelevant. What are important are the shareholders and Directors.

If the Pope is a Catholic then he is certainly no Marxist. If profit-making drives capitalists it would be useful to ask where profits come from. Profits come from the exploitation of the working class. Workers produce more value in the working day than they receive in wages and salaries. This surplus value goes to the capitalist class in the unearned income of rent, interest and profit.

We should not wait for the next disaster and loss of life. Yes, profit is the problem. Production should not take place for the purpose of profit but just directly to meet human need. The solution to Grenfell and the underhand practices it exposed is the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism. And this requires the conscious, political and democratic action of a socialist majority. Only a socialist majority can abolish commodity production and exchange for profit and establish the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

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