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From: The Socialist issue 1120, 10 February 2021: Tories admit market failure - we want our NHS back!

Search site for keywords: London - Tory - Fire - Pay - East London

London fire victims lobby Tory mayoral candidate

Barking Reach Resident's Association protest October 2019, photo Pete Mason, photo Pete Mason

Barking Reach Resident's Association protest October 2019, photo Pete Mason, photo Pete Mason   (Click to enlarge)

Pete Mason, East London Socialist Party

When Tory London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey tweeted his opposition to a levy on building firms to solve the desperate problem of flammable cladding, residents in housing with unsafe cladding, and those already victims of fires, were furious and organised a virtual lobby.

In 2019, two years after the Grenfell tragedy, wood-framed Richmond House in Worcester Park, South West London was completely destroyed by a fire. Resident Jennifer Frame, who organised the lobby, explains: "23 families lost our homes and everything we owned. The London Fire Brigade arrived within nine minutes, but every floor of the building was already ablaze. Despite the efforts of 125 firefighters, every home was destroyed."

A fire in Bellway-built Samuel Garside House in Barking East London also took place in the summer of 2019, destroying 20 flats and displacing 79 families. Flames spread in minutes, residents fled barefoot, lost everything they owned, and faced psychological trauma.

Profits over safety

Neither building qualified for the government's Building Safety Fund. "If a builder sold you a faulty building, they should pay for remediation", Bailey stated, "the same as if you bought a faulty pair of shoes". His argument is that a few bad apples caused the cladding scandal. In fact, it is a systemic problem of the multi-billion pound big builders maximising their profits at the expense of safety.

Jennifer countered: "Berkeley group says Richmond House 'performed' as it should". I added that Bellway stated it had no legal duty to repair the building after the fire. They still refuse to admit fault.

"This is not buying faulty shoes", Jennifer added, "it's like a car with faulty brakes, putting your life in danger". Bailey argued that a general levy on building firms would threaten their profits and they would refuse to build. In other words, they hold the capital city to ransom.

These big building firms should be brought into democratic public ownership, to build the thousands of safe council homes the city needs, and employ workers organised in their trade unions on secure contracts with decent rates of pay.

I pointed out that Bellway made 662 million profit in 2019. Jennifer added that Berkeley group made, "2.3 billion profits in the three years since Grenfell". These hugely profitable building firms should be made to pay for these defective buildings, not the leaseholders.

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The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

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Article dated 10 February 2021

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Thurrock council workers striking against pay cuts, photo by Dave Murray

Thurrock council workers striking against pay cuts, photo Dave Murray

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