Saturday, June 17, 2017

British people respond to Grenfell Fire and call for Social Housing

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I am sitting here in a coffee shop next to Marble Arch not far from the tragedy that unfolded here in London when Grenfell Tower, a block of low-income flats went up in flames. So far there are 30 dead but dozens are missing and some may never be found.

There were protests last night at Kensington Town Hall and also at Downing Street as the anger is beginning to express itself more openly. I am not going to go in to details about the corporate and state negligence that led to this disaster, inadequate safety measures, complete disregard for human life pretty much sums it up. I should qualify that mind you, human beings that don’t have money, and in capitalist society money is social power. Possessing great wealth even allows you to molest and violate women whenever you get the urge.

The other day my friend and I were walking down Edgeware Road looking for a place to eat. Anyone that knows me and Martinez are aware that we have no trouble talking to strangers because we believe there really is no such thing as strangers------“nothing human is alien to me” said my old pal Marx.  We walked past this café where everyone was outside. The weather was good and a lot of them were smoking shisha out of those big Hookah’s. Shisha is a flavored tobacco and I remember doing that when I was in Iraq in 1971 by the river.  There are a lot of Lebanese, Kurdish and other Middle Eastern restaurants here. It is a trendy area very close to the site of the fire.

We ended up chatting with three young Somali Muslim women. They wore the traditional headscarf but were all born here or came here young. They were perhaps in the mid twenties. Learning we were American (when Rog spoke not me) one of them mentioned how they can’t come to America, they’re banned.  “There are only twelve million of us in the world”, the cheeky one said to us making some other remark about how such a small group of people from a poverty stricken country destroyed by colonialism and presently being bombed on a regular basis by US imperialism can be such a threat to the American way of life. We had such a lovely time with them, they were no different to any young women from any culture.  This was their rebellious moment, out there smoking shisha.

As I looked at the pictures of the known victims of the Grenfell fire I noticed that a huge number of them were Muslims. There were others from other parts of the world as well, some Eastern Europeans perhaps. One thing they all had in common was they were poor or were low-income workers. One Labor MP commented on the inequality in Britain today comparing the situation to Dickens’ time when he wrote A Tale of Two Cities. This is what globalization has done, forced workers from poorer countries, former colonial possessions in the main, to the advanced capitalist economies in search of work. In my early childhood in England it was the Irish that were dominant in that role.

This has caused some problems as workers compete for work. I remember the Irish laborers that I worked with on the roads in the sixties, literally peasants who had never left their own villages back home. Irish contractors and middlemen exploited them, English contractors did the same and they were made fun of, racial jokes abounded as they do not speak English properly (of course it’s not their language) and they were illiterate in many ways. Like our Mexicans and other Latino immigrants, they were blamed for bringing down wages as they were “willing” to work for less. I am sure they would, as would the many Eastern European workers in low waged jobs here be “willing” to work for higher wages if that option was on the table.

The right wing politicians and the capitalist press both here in the UK as well as the US exploit this situation to their own ends blaming immigrants for the driving down of living standards.   Overwhelmingly we have found a positive atmosphere here at the defeat the right wing Tory party and its leader Theresa May received in the recent election. May has been humiliated and there is political chaos here as they have not been able to form a government. The Conservatives cannot govern alone and are dependent on the Democratic Unionist Party, the right wing Protestant nationalist party in Northern Ireland to help them. The DUP is a racist, homophobic and partially criminal gang.

We traveled up north visiting Banbury and the surrounding countryside as well as Chester and the great Cathedral at York travelling through the northern part of the Peak District oin the way. I’ll hopefully write a bit more about this but we have been happy with how people have treated us, all people. I’ll write more about this when I get back hopefully.

On the first day we came we stopped in a pub and got to talking to a group of English people, they all voted for Brexit (to leave the EU) .  While this vote is more complicated as all issues can be, thee people were racist and xenophobic. I happened to use the term anti-immigrant and the woman got a little mad with me. I raised this because one of them said, “you don’t hear English spoken here anymore.”. This is nonsense of course as that’s all we heard. The Bulgarian driver from the airport spoke it, the Romanian clerk at the care hire spoke it and so did her Punjabi co-worker. 

The woman said she didn’t mind immigrants that work she objected to “benefits migrants” who come here and are a drain on the state. When I asked her how she knew these details or has sources she simple said “I know”. But Roger put it so well, “What she really means…” he said, “…is that she only wants English spoken.”  Any person with a brain knows that immigrants work hard, that’s why they leave their homes, traversing great distances facing extreme danger to face abuse from racists and xenophobes. Nothing stops people trying to find ways to feed themselves and their children. Why people do that is what we have to understand. One thing positive about Trump is that he’s forced these characters out in to the open. These people were a minority and the outpouring of help and support from the British people throughout the country for the fire victims has been immense.

I’ll end this post here but in the time it took me to write this, a Saudi woman sat next to me here and reminded me what the name of the Shisha pipe is called. I thanked her in Arabic and could see that pleased her. She asked me if I spoke it, unfortunately not, but hello, goodbye and thank you are easy to remember. Outside a very sickly, possibly mentally ill woman (homelessness will do that to you) is barely standing on her tiny feet with her hand out. A guy just stopped and gave her a MacDonald’s meal.

The Tory Party and May are in a sever crisis. We are in a period in which the capitalist class in the advanced capitalist economies are facing their worst political crises since the war. We are not in a revolutionary situation but I believe definitely at the gates of a revolutionary era. The future depends to a great deal on the leadership of the working class. And though the industrial working class has shifted from Europe and the US to Asia and more than 50% of industrial workers are women which is a good thing; the successful overthrow of capitalism and the filth that goes with it will not be possible without the US working class settling accounts with US capitalists.

I am happy to be part of the human race.

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