Sunday, 18 June 2017

Grenfell Fire Sheds Light on Unfair Society

& the British Building Trade
LAST month, the National Rank & File construction workers held a conference in Manchester at which a booklet. which formed part of the theme of the conference, was promoted entitled 'BUILDING WORKERS INTO BEGGARS'.
This week the Grenfell fire illuminated some of the most telling problems of modern society not just in Britain but throughout the world.
Yesterday, the Financial Times ran an editorial, which one former communist told me was better than anything in the Morning Star; the FT leader writer wrote:
'The tower's  blackened silhouette looming above London's most affluent enclaves, is rapidly becoming a symbol of the divisions in British society.  The tragedy is fuelling resentment over inequality over the inequality and impact of austerity on the poorest.  It represents a serious political threat to a prime minister struggling to assert her authority.... Yet the disaster is also causing disquiet across the world in cities where high rise housing is an essential part of contemporary urban living.'
Pre-fabricated construction & low pay
Meanwhile, in their book at the building worker's Manchester Rank & File conference Dr. Brian Parker and Peter Shaw, a Technical Member of  the Institute of Technology wrote in their introduction to their booklet 'BUILDING WORKERS INTO BEGGARS' :
'The UK construction industry has a long-established, and rarely broken history of low basic wages, employment casualisation, bonus and incentive pay reliance, low trade union density as well as persistently high serious injury and fatality rates.'
The Parkin and Shaw report continues:
''.... over the last four decades {construction) has been in many ways transformed by increased mechanisation, modular and pre-fabricated systems of construction methods and pre-site assembly of many electrical and mechanical services systems.... Over the same period the employers have consistently attempted to further deregulate the construction industry's labour market by an outright assault on skilled (mainly) electrician's pay grades...'
This brief report explains how it arose from discussions at the National Construction Rank & File executive 'concerning the plight of younger construction workers, who due to [the] low entry level ...of in-course training pay, find themselves excluded from an already out of control housing market.'
What this report is outlining is that the lads (and it is mainly lads) that build the houses in this country can't afford to live in them, and that on the technical aspect the book is highlighting that today 'pre-fabricated systems of construction.. and pre-site assembly (methods)' are being used.
The Devil of Deregulation
The National Rank & File construction worker's booklet report is naturally concerned about the 'deregulation' of skills, pay and conditions.  The Financial Times editor is worried about the deregulation applied generally to the building industry.
The FT warns the government that this (Grenfell Tower's Fire) 'should serve as a warning to anyone in government who still believes in deregulation measured on an absurd "one in three out" numerical basis, as an ideological goal.'
Yesterday's FT editorial concludes:
'The fire that swept through King's Cross underground station in 1987 prompted tougher regulation, a huge progamme of works to make the tube network safer and a fundamental rethink of approaches to fire safety.  The towering inferno in North Kensington was a tragedy that could almost certainly have been prevented and demands a similar response.'

At the time on the Lisbon earthquake on November 1, 1755, the greater part of the city of Lisbon, Portugal, was destroyed, sixty thousand were said to have lost their lives, and the property damage, although it cannot be estimated accurately, was of course enormous.  But the Lisbon earthquake was what some call an 'Act of God', the Grenfell fire is not.  Because of the sociological circumstances of the time the Lisbon earthquake caused tremendous theological disputes over the nature of God and the responsibility of the Pope, not least between the French philosophers Rousseau and Voltaire. 
A leading letter in the FT yesterday from Prof. Christopher Hall writing about the Grenfell fire said:  'The fact of this fire is a regulatory failure of government.  It is particularly damning that this failure occurred in public housing, where government must be the guarantor of safety for tenants who may have little choice where they live.' 
Pro. Hall then claims that with regard to the 'lethal danger of combustible materials and unimpeded cavities on the exterior of buildings' that '[i]t is elementary to avoid such features, but it requires alert and expert regulators to keep abreast of changes in construction methods and materials.'
Alternatively, we could always adopt Jean-Jacques Rousseau's recommendation provided following the Lisbon earthquake:
'(That) if men had abandoned city life and returned to nature rather than congregating in Lisbon, the result would have been different. "Admit," wrote Rousseau, "that it was not nature's way to crowd together 20,000 houses with 6 or 7 stories each, and if all the inhabitants of this large city had been dispersed more equally, the damage would have been much less, maybe nil."

No comments: