Grenfell: Burning Fury

People in Grenfell Tower lost their lives because those who are to keep them safe didn’t think they were worth spending money on. Those put in tower blocks, which are hazards – and it turns out many of them are tragedies waiting to unfold – are treated as a liability, an unprofitable expense rather than individuals who lack social power and therefore can’t escape exploitation and indignity of every kind. In fact they are the kind of people who work hardest for the lowest wages: zero hour contracts, and such like exploitation.

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The contempt in which they are held by Kensington and Chelsea Tory council, and Labour councils too in other places, is expressed in a number of ways. For example, the media has said that if residents pay their council tax on time and do not ask for council services – and this would apply to wealthy people who are most of Grenfell’s neighbours – then they get a £100 rebate at the end of the financial year.  That is, the wealthy pay £100 less council tax than those who have much less.   Those who need council services or are late with their payments – that is, people with very little who have big problems they need the council to help with –they get no rebate and pay the full whack: they subsidise the council tax of the wealthy. When asked about the rebate, the council spokesman could not understand why that was queried, so much is his brain drenched in class bias; so much does he take for granted his rights over the lives of tenants in the tower blocks.

This is the council which would not put in a sprinkler system for £200,000 which would have saved most of the lives; and put in the cheaper version of the cladding which caused the fire to climb the tower very rapidly, ensuring many deaths. £200,000 is not hard for a council to come by if it is really interested in human life. But it is easier to come by if you are interested in destroying human life militarily. The Brimstone missiles fired on Syria, Iraq and who knows where else, cost £100,000 each. The British military fired quite a number and we were not asked to vote on whether we thought our money should be spent in this way instead of on sprinklers and non-inflammable cladding. Such a vote would be real civilisation. As Gandhi said when asked what he thought of Western civilisation, “I think it would be a very good thing”.

One of the placards the Global Women’s Strike carried when it joined the tenants’ demo after the fire was, “Black, immigrant, working class, our lives matter”.

After the fire people described how people like them (and us) are despised, demeaned and murdered in our beds. Such clarity owes much to the recent election and how well the Corbyn movement did. We now have the power of an opposition voice in Parliament and that alone has made us bolder to say what we really think and most of the time have held back from saying. This is only the beginning. We have a lot to say. And to do.

The cost of life saving sprinklers –

compared to killing costs –
Two Brimstone missiles fewer would have paid for a sprinkler system, saving not only lives at Grenfell, but also lives in Iraq and Syria

“This is Our Chance”

Kilburn walkabout
Kilburn walkabout, 7 June 2017

A member of Kilburn Labour Party called for a walkabout to follow the boundaries of the Kilburn ward, as used to be the tradition before elections. About 60 people turned up and cheerfully walked together with placards and chants, backed by a mobile sound system playing Liar Liar and Get Up Stand Up. We got a great welcome. This is what some participants reported:

“I leafleted up and down Kilburn High Road on the other side of the road from the walkabout and 90% of people were enthusiastically supportive of Labour. As I approached and before I could say anything people would jump in and say, “I’ve done my postal vote and voted Labour.” Some would give me a clenched fist and a smile and say, “Yes I’m with you”. One woman who said she was voting Labour added, “This is our chance.”

Two individuals were hostile. They were both furious at our elation. A woman sitting on a bench said she wouldn’t vote Corbyn because he was going let too many people in. I asked who had caused more damage to this country, the bankers or immigrants. The man next to her turned to her and said “see!” and then back to me and said, “I’m voting Labour”.”

There was overwhelming support for our demo from the public – all kinds of people, different races and nationalities. Neighbours of one housing estate, who were out on their balconies, cheered and some made a fist in support. The sound system announced that we were there and that we were jolly and feisty.

People in cars, both women and men, honked and shouted “vote Labour” as they drove by. Other people joined us as we went along the route.

The banner at the front was held by a young man and an Irish pensioner, who is a community organiser, who later handed the banner off to another young man. I spoke to one of the banner holders and he told me that it was the first political event he had been to. He said they really wanted to help, he had taken two days off work and wanted to know what he could do.

A young teacher held a placard against grammar schools and for educational grants to be reinstated. Two little kids had placards; one for free school dinners and another demanding “£10 minimum wage”.

For the last mile and a half from Queens Park back to Kilburn High Road there were loads of people, mostly women but some men and some with little kids, waving out of their windows.”

“It was striking that some people were really glad to see us. For example, a street sweeper on the opposite side of the High Road started to smile, his whole face lit up, when he saw our demo. There were others like that.”

“The people who were on the streets from the High Road to the back streets were thrilled to see us. When you looked up at the houses and waved, people waved back. There was an entirely different feeling with the hooking cars and the smiling people. People loved the music. Young people were glad to see pensioners jiving. The placards had many of the demands from the amazing Labour Manifesto but also “end austerity” and “no holding hands with Trump”.

It was good combination of traditional and untraditional. We had “Liar Liar” booming out of the sound system and a Labour member chanting “vote Labour”. There were plenty of posters in people’s windows. We saw only one Conservative poster in the whole walk. Our own enjoyment was infectious.”

All in all it was like a celebration. The day before I’d been canvassing and a number of people said “I’m voting Labour.” “Thank you for doing this.” I’ve never been thanked before. Clearly people felt that this election was our chance, the first for a long time to vote for what we wanted and had not been offered.

This is not only an election, it is a moment in the coming together of a movement. And a movement is a lot of fun.

Please send other experiences and observations for the rest of us to share.

Woman’s Hour Arrogant and Nasty Interview with Jeremy Corbyn

This complaint was sent to Woman’s Hour on Tuesday 30 May:

We were shocked by the arrogant and nasty way in which Emma Barnett interviewed Jeremy Corbyn. The clear purpose of the interview was not to inform the audience but to demean the person that many thousands of people (in the majority women) made leader of the Labour Party. And it was disrespectful of the audience who have a right to know what’s in it for them in the Labour Manifesto.

Your interviewer usurped the platform which our commonality as women had created, for her own political motives which had nothing to do with informing the audience. Instead, she gave us partisan and strident point scoring, reminiscent of Marine Le Pen. Is this your standard for political dialogue? Is WH aligned with the Daily Telegraph? You gave the impression that this is where WH stands politically.

The Labour Manifesto has a lot to offer the majority of women who are in low paid jobs, doing most of the caring (waged and unwaged), working in the NHS (80%), etc. Thanks to Emma Barnett’s blatant bias we never found out what we needed to know.

Selma James and Nina Lopez

A Woman’s Place is in the Labour Manifesto


Labour is offering a realistic and hopeful alternative to the Tories’ continuing attacks on us all, especially women, write NINA LOPEZ and SELMA JAMES

Labour’s manifesto has permanently changed the political landscape. It offers what we always wanted but were told we couldn’t have — a welfare state funded by the corporations and the top 5 per cent.

Renationalisation of basic services, reclaiming the wealth stolen from us by decades of privatisation, is back on the agenda, along with precise costings.

Some journalists are having trouble attempting to ridicule what is clearly popular. Instead they accuse Jeremy Corbyn of being unable to carry it out.

They can twist and turn but can no longer hide that the Jeremy Corbyn/ John McDonnell movement inherits the spirit of the 1945 Labour government.

The manifesto proposes a Labour Cabinet of 50 per cent women, not to hide burning injustices that millions face every day but to address them. And since every policy affects women, all policy and legislation would be audited for its impact on women before implementation.

Eighty per cent of UK women are mothers, many also grandmothers. Over two-thirds are waged workers. Women are also the primary carer in 90 per cent of households and the majority of the 6.5 million unwaged family carers.

Carer’s allowance would rise by £11 per week — nowhere near enough, considering how vital and demanding this work is, but an important step in the left direction.

Commitments to making the minimum wage a real living wage and closing the pay gap target both sexist and racist discrimination as ethnic minority women are generally the lowest paid.

Crucially for women, who have borne 86 per cent of the austerity cuts, and for children, four million of whom are living in poverty, the cuts would be reversed.

McDonnell said that the social security system would be reviewed to be supportive rather than punitive — the original intention of the welfare state.

Universal credit’s shameful and humiliating “rape clause,” which disqualifies the third and later children — unless the mother can show she was raped — will end.

Benefit sanctions which forced hundreds of thousands to rely on foodbanks, the hated bedroom tax, and the privatised work capability assessment, which has brought death and destitution to disabled people, would all be scrapped.

The manifesto targets violence and discrimination against disabled women, and promotes independent living.

The abolition of zero-hours contracts speaks first of all to women, who are the majority of workers suffering this pernicious form of exploitation common in hotels and food services, health and social care.

Part-time workers, most of whom are mothers, are to have the same rights as full-timers, but equality of pay is not yet on the agenda, and must be.

Tories accuse pensioners of causing the NHS funding crisis by living longer, perhaps too long. But cuts to social care have left the NHS to pick up the tab.

Labour would increase the budgets of both the NHS, whose staff is 80 per cent women, and social care, reinstating nurses’ bursaries and introducing a national care service.

Carers, often immigrant women, run from job to job, their travel time unpaid. Fifteen-minute visits would be lengthened, travel time now paid — respectful of both the carer and the people who need their care.

Crucially to ensure monitoring and accountability, whistleblowers would be protected.

Pensioners, mostly women who never got pay equity and therefore have lower pensions, are defended by keeping universal fuel allowance and the “triple lock,” ensuring an annual pension rise of at least 2.5 per cent.

The Tories would drop universality and the 2.5 per cent increase. Their pre-election propaganda that pensioners are doing well and at the expense of young people, prepared the ground for that. But young people are not convinced that pensioners are living it up at their expense, especially since two million pensioners live in fuel poverty and 30,000 die every year from having to choose between heating and eating.

Labour proposes to freeze the pension age at 66 while developing a flexible policy that reflects “wide variations in life expectancy,” “arduous conditions of some work” and “contributions made.”

Women lost retirement at 60 with no recognition that most had worked a double day, caring for young and old while holding down a waged job. A review would enable unwaged caring work in the family to be counted.

Extending paid maternity leave to one year and doubling paternity leave to four weeks would give parents much needed space and time with the newly arrived child.

Tens of thousands of women lose their jobs when they go on maternity leave. Their rights would be protected, including by the abolition of tribunal fees to challenge unfair pay or dismissal and doubling to six months the time allowed for applying.

Workplaces would be made safer for pregnant women and those who suffer miscarriage would get support.

Universal free school meals for infants are to be extended to all primary school kids, removing the stigma which discourages children from taking up their entitlement. The Tories, instead, would end universality.

We recently won the abolition of clauses in the Children and Social Work Bill which removed statutory protection for children in care, opening the way for further privatisation. Labour commits to keeping child protection services out of private hands, “refocus social care to work with families … to prevent children becoming at risk of going into care,” and increase support for kinship carers, usually grandmothers.

In the family courts, victims of domestic violence would no longer have to pay doctors for certification of their injuries or be cross-examined.

Given that the number of children in care is the highest in 35 years, that the children of single mothers, including domestic violence victims, are being targeted, and that women have been protesting about this outside the family court, these child protection proposals are an important redirection.

Homeless single mothers who refuse to be rehoused miles away from support networks can be threatened with having their children removed.

The manifesto would stop such social cleansing by establishing our right to affordable council housing and reinstating housing benefit for 18 to 21-year-olds.

Other demands of the anti-rape movement are reflected: new standards for tackling domestic and sexual violence, banning community resolutions in DV cases, a national refuge fund and a violence against women commissioner to provide stable funding for women’s refuges and rape crisis centres.

Labour would also work to extend legal abortion to Northern Ireland and legislation would be reformed to protect the rights of LGBT people.

A new national education service aims to be as radical as the NHS was in 1948. It would bring back education maintenance allowance for 16 to 18-year-olds, scrap university tuition fees and expand further education, an opportunity for women whose studies were interrupted by caring responsibilities.

Combined with free universal childcare for two, three and four-year-olds and support for programmes like Sure Start, this can open the way for new thinking on childcare [– not just a safe place to park children while we go out to work. Can this be an exciting and flexible environment to build communities, involving parents, including those who want to spend more time with their kids rather than taking a full-time job?]*

Ending the public-sector pay cap and involving teachers in a broadening curriculum would redignify teaching.

When communities are criminalised, it is most often women who visit loved ones in prison and campaign for justice.

Ending the privatisation of prisons, using imprisonment as a last resort, reviewing stop and search, deaths in custody and the Prevent programme, and protecting Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities are long overdue.

Female prisoners, most of whom are mothers, are not mentioned; we will have to work to ensure that children are no longer punished by the unwarranted imprisonment of their primary carers. Funding for judicial reviews would be reinstated and legal aid cuts reviewed.

A major strength of Corbyn as a leader is his commitment to prevent war and environmental destruction.

This appeals to women in particular who are much less attracted to the machismo of violent confrontation. He has also refused to give in to witch-hunting immigrants, pointing instead to their economic and social contributions.

The rights of migrant workers, including domestic workers enslaved by visa conditions, would be restored. More refugees are to be welcomed; their “not fit for purpose” housing and dispersal reviewed.

Corbyn offers a society less competitive and personally ambitious, beginning with its leadership. As McDonnell puts it: “It’s about universalism. That’s the basis upon which we’ve created our welfare state.”

This Labour manifesto is a realistic and hopeful alternative to Theresa May’s continuing attack on most of us, especially women. The massive membership Corbyn has attracted is bringing enthusiasm to the doorsteps, social media and our TV screens.

Our bet is that women will be the majority for Corbyn, as they were in his leadership election.

Startling as this manifesto is, it is the first step in re-establishing the welfare state and building a peaceful and caring society.

*Words in square brackets were cut from hard copy for length.