Can we classify capitalist exploiters as terrorists now?

There has been a terrible fire in London — flames raced up a residence tower, killing 6 and putting about 70 in the hospital. Normally, that would just be local news, but this fire has a horrifying twist: the management company has been receiving warnings from residents about poor fire safety for at least 4 years now. Residents were advised that if there were a fire, they should just sit quietly in their apartments and wait for the fire department to take care of it. Yeah, just sit quietly during this:

It’s the literal personification of the “This is fine” dog.

Really, the management company has been fully aware, and they’ve received incessant complaints, and their response has been to tell everyone to shut up. You can never trust a landlord — this is why we’re supposed to have laws that constrain capitalist excess.


  1. says

    I read the power of the free market allowed the building owners to re-clad the building in cheap highly flammable panels, instead of expensive stuff constrained by pesky overbearing gubmint rules to be fireproof.

  2. mordred says

    Saw the pictures and thought: That looks a bit like the place my sister used to live years ago!

    Horrible, just horrible. And there are people who significantly increase the risks of something like that happening to increase their profit margin! Can I be adopted by another species please? I’m not sure I want to call myself human sometimes!

  3. says

    Yesterday I mentioned over at Affinity that there had been a fire in my old university building which doesn’t have the most basic fire safety. Their method of evacuating people was to send students around. Yes, in a fire, which fortunately did not spread, they sent people with no training or equipment upstairs to tell people to leave the building.
    The student who works in the library after hours was wearing earphones and didn’t hear them knock.
    Today I woke up to this.

    Residents were advised that if there were a fire, they should just sit quietly in their apartments and wait for the fire department to take care of it. Yeah, just sit quietly during this:

    Generally, in such a building, if and when it actually conforms to safety regulations, this is a good thing. I live in a building much like this, though smaller (13 storeys) and so do my in laws.
    A few years back somebody knocked at my in laws’ door because there was a strange smell in their corridor (my father in law used to be caretaker there). He went up, smelled the smoke, knocked and rang the bell, but nobody answered. He called the fire department which was there within minutes, who broke open the door.
    End of story: the people living there had forgotten something on the stove and gone to the park. Stuff caught fire, set the exhaust hood on fire, but had basically extinguished itself already.
    Now imagine evacuating a building with a few hundred people, many of them elderly and/or disabled. This can kill people. That’s why fireproofing everything else is vitally important. It also requires firefighters to make a good call when they need to get people out.


    I read the power of the free market allowed the building owners to re-clad the building in cheap highly flammable panels, instead of expensive stuff constrained by pesky overbearing gubmint rules to be fireproof.

    This. The building is in Kensington, it’s a council building and there are ongoing efforts to gentrify even the last of it.
    NO facade should burn like this. I actually had to look what a rainscreen cladding is and wondered which idiot ever thought that a good idea, especially when done with highly flammable material.

  4. says

    Greed killed six people. Capitalism in it’s purest form.

    See these flames that run at the outside of the building? That should not happen.
    But for many years now people have started to retrofit buildings with better isolation to improve energy efficiency. A noble goal.
    The big problem is that the used Styrofoam burns way better than advertised. And the vertical position with unlimited amounts of fresh air lead to horrible fires. Measures to prevent the spread of a facade fire are mostly useless because you get big flames upwards and molten plastic dropping downwards, surpassing burn barriers.
    So why is this still used, instead of less flammable materials?
    Because it is cheap. And the corporations (at least here in Germany) have done some weird testing and lobbying to get their favorite Styrofoam (Polystyrol) approved as hard to inflame. Which is bullshit. But hey, profit!
    Oh, and this Styrofoam has to be drenched in flame retarding and herbicide materials that pollute the environment and produce highly toxic gases when it burns.
    So yeah, such an burning building is the perfect symbol of pure capitalism.

  5. dexitroboper says

    The “sit quetly and wait” advice is for buildings that meet code and are properly compartmentised.

  6. says

    To be precise, the landlord is the local government, which contracts out management. This is a publicly owned property. So it’s quite a bit more complicated than a case of “capitalist exploiters.” The government and management company had both received complaints, and did not act, so there would seem to be some degree of shared responsibility, as yet to be sorted out.

    BTW, latest update is that the firestops had been removed for renovation of the heating system. Apparently they had not been replaced because ordinarily a fire cannot move between floors so easily in a high rise. (Firestops are basically fireproof seals in the utility channels between the floors.) This could turn out to be a mistake or perhaps fraud by a contractor. We’ll have to wait to learn exactly what happened.

  7. Jeremy Shaffer says

    No, no; seriously, guys! This will just show the free markets work because no one will want to rent from those landlords again, and they’ll go out of business. The free market always fixes itself!

    Capitalism for the win!

  8. OptimalCynic says

    The tower block was built as council housing and is run by the Kensington Borough Council, so I’m not sure what it has to do with capitalist exploiters or evil free markets.

  9. thirdmill says

    There’s a perfectly fine law in place that the Crown should avail itself of: Manslaughter. Everyone who works for the management company should be charged with it.

  10. OptimalCynic says

    thirdmill: Including the elected councillors (the management company is a subsidiary of the council)? I’d definitely get behind that, chuck them all in jail.

  11. Ed Seedhouse says

    The building is publicly owned, but the refurbishing was done by a private contractor, no doubt the lowest bidder. Local councils, unlike the national government, have limited monetary resources, and IIRR in England they have had their national government funding cut, in the name of “efficiency”.

  12. thirdmill says

    OptimalCynic, everyone who knew about and was in a position to fix the problem and didn’t do it. I don’t know enough of the facts to know if that would include the elected councillors or not.

  13. gijoel says

    To the management: Go directly to jail. Do not collect a golden parachute. Do pass Go.

  14. OptimalCynic says

    Ed Seedhouse: Of course it was done by a private contractor. Councils don’t, and shouldn’t, have work crews who are experts in recladding 27 storey buildings. It would be immensely wasteful, they’d spend most of their time with nothing to do.

    What councils *should* have is building inspectors, and they’re the ones who should be facing some very harsh questions. I wonder if there was any pressure on them to go easy on council-owned buildings?

  15. Ed Seedhouse says

    The building was not run by the Council, but since 1966 by a private “not for profit” organization called the “Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization”. The Council does own the many properties this organization manages, but the Tenants have to deal with the KCTMO, not with the owners. A typical 1960’s “privatization” trick in the name of “efficiency” I suspect. I wonder what the managers make?

    This link contains some interesting information, thought I cannot vouch for accuracy:

  16. davidc1 says

    On the British Independent web page ,the story about Muslims waking early from their Ramadan fast who were the first to raise the alarm has received a lot of Islam hate comments .
    Makes me ashamed to be British .

  17. Zmidponk says

    I was hearing about this. It sounds pretty damn horrific – people throwing their children out of the windows and getting those outside to try to catch them in order to try to save them from burning, and people being trapped inside their flats simply because the smoke in the hallways was too thick to make it outside. It’s now confirmed that at least 12 are dead, but that figure is expected to go up.

  18. KG says

    Further to Ed Seedhouse@15, here is what Kensington and Chelsea council’s website says about its relationship with KCTMO:

    If you are a Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) tenant and you feel you are not receiving a satisfactory service, you are strongly advised to make a formal complaint to the KCTMO.

    Before the Council can deal with any complaints from KCTMO tenants, the tenants must first contact and log a complaint with the KCTMO.

    The KCTMO manages the Council housing stock and as such the Council cannot take enforcement action against it.

    The Council’s Environmental Health Team can however speak to the KCTMO on a tenant’s behalf to try to address any problems informally.

    For details on how to make a formal complaint please visit the KCTMO website.

    Numerous tenants had apparently complained to KCTMO about the fire risk. Whoever else is to blame, it would seem their senior management should be first in line for manslaughter prosecutions.

    “Arms Length Management Organizations” (ALMOs) such as KCTMO are widley regarded as a halfway step to privatization of local government services. They are “not for profit”, but that doesn’t mean there is not a clutch of very well-paid directors eager to cut costs to make more room for their own salaries, and be ready for full privatization by a management buy-out when opportunity offers. I have a friend who lives in a council-owned flat in Camden, another London borough. There, a grassroots campaign fought off a council attempt to ALMO-ise their properties. ALMOs are certainly a part of the long-term trend to reduce the powers, financial resources and responsibilities of elected local councils in the UK* – which already has some of the weakest local democracy in Europe.

    *Scotland as well as England; I don’t know about Wales and northern Ireland. The SNP Scottish Government’s centralising attitude to local government is one of the points on which my own party, the Scottish Greens, most strongly disagrees with them.

  19. says

    Local activists are putting the ultimate blame on the government, not the management company. Statement here:

    The fire at Grenfell is a horrific, preventable tragedy for which authorities and politicians must be held to account. Grenfell’s council tenants are not second class citizens – yet they are facing a disaster unimaginable in Kensington’s richer neighbourhoods.

    “This Government, and many before it, have neglected council housing, and disregarded its tenants as if they were second class. Nationally and locally, politicians have subjected public housing to decades of systematic disinvestment – leaving properties in a state of disrepair, and open to privatisation. Regeneration, when it has come, has been for the benefit of developers and buy-to-let landlords, who profit from the new luxury flats built in place of affordable homes. Across London, regeneration has meant evictions, poor quality building work, and has given tenants little meaningful influence over the future of their estates.

    “The chronic underinvestment in council housing and contempt for tenants must stop. It is an outrage that in 21st Britain, authorities cannot be trusted to provide safe housing, and that people in council properties cannot put children safely to bed at night.

    “We support demands for a public inquiry into this disaster – there must be Justice for Grenfell. We call for the immediate resignation of Gavin Barwell, Theresa May’s Chief of Staff, alongside anyone else whose negligence has contributed to this tragedy.

  20. cartomancer says

    It’s an urban problem as old as high rise blocks themselves. You would think we’d have this one figured out by now, but no – the Romans knew full well how greedy landlords would skimp on safety measures, and turn their blocks into deathtraps. Juvenal, as ever, put it best two thousand years ago:

    “Who at cool Praeneste, or at Volsinii amid its leafy hills, was ever afraid of his house tumbling down? Who in modest Gabii, or on the sloping heights of Tivoli? But here we inhabit a city propped up for the most part by slender statues of flute-players, for that is how the bailiff patches up the cracks in the old wall, bidding the inmates sleep at ease under a roof ready to tumble about their ears. No, no, I must live where there are no fires, no nightly alarms. Ucalegon below is already shouting for water and shifting his chattels; smoke is pouring out of your third-floor attic above, but you know nothing of it; for if the alarm begins in the ground-floor, the last man to burn will be he who has nothing to shelter him from the rain but the tiles, where the gentle doves lay their eggs.”

    If we can’t do any better after all this time and progress we’re in a sorry state indeed.

  21. Ed Seedhouse says

    I think there is plenty of blame to go around. Evil and indifference (the same thing?) are not limited to greedy capitalists or corrupt politicians. One can hope that a proper investigation is done and the people who are to blame will be found, and punished. That might be a bit naive I suppose…

    One thing seems clear and that is that there was a serious failure of the enforcement of regulations. Bribery perhaps?

    It seems this disaster was actually foretold well in advance. Warnings were given, and ignored. Everything was fine until it wasn’t and “how were we to know”? Well, they apparently ignored some pretty clear warnings.

  22. OptimalCynic says

    > but that doesn’t mean there is not a clutch of very well-paid directors eager to cut costs to make more room for their own salaries

    “KCTMO is managed by a Board of Directors comprising of eight elected tenant and leaseholder members, four appointed Councillor members and three independent appointed other members. ”

    Unpaid too, I think. It looks closer to a tenant co-op than anything else.

  23. KG says

    From your link:

    A Chief Executive, appointed by the Board, has overall responsibility for the successful operation of KCTMO, and for ensuring that the Board’s decisions and policies are carried out.

    The CEO’s salary appear to be in the region of £150,000. KCTMO is not a tenant cooperative. If it was, all tenants* of KCTMO-managed properties would automatically get a vote in board elections, but this is limited to KTCMO members – although it appears residents of such properties can easily become members. Moreover, the 15-member board includes 8 residents, 4 members appointed by the Council, and 3 “independent” members – I can’t find out how they are chosen. If the non-resident board members vote as a bloc, they would need only one “tame” resident for a majority.

    *There are also leaseholders, some 18% of the properties havign been sold off.

  24. vole says

    Six people were killed in a fire in a London tower block in 2009. The report into that incident made recommendations which would have prevented this latest disaster, if the relevant people in Kensington had paid attention. Unfortunately they did not. This morning the fire service announced that they don’t expect to find any more survivors in Grenfell Tower. The number of people definitely known to have died still stands at 12, but I have a horrible feeling that the final figure is going to run into hundreds.

  25. call me mark says

    I’ve heard that the cladding (mentioned by Lofty at #2) was put on to make the building more attractive to the people in the luxury flats nearby.

  26. Ichthyic says

    Zakir Garalov, the prosecutor general in the Muslim Caucasus republic, blamed the polyurethane paneling that was applied to the housing block for the spectacular speed of the blaze. The head of the company in charge of tiling the building, Global Construction, was arrested later Tuesday afternoon.

  27. ajbjasus says

    It’s not just the cladding – the design introduces an airflow void behind the cladding, which would have allowed the fire to “draw” very efficiently, so in effect the residents were living inside a huge chimney, lined with flammable material. The building design was such that fires were intended to be fought from teh inside – not much use when the ousiude is blazing.

    Unfortunately this is the consequence of a programme to upgrade the flats, and improve energy efficency – laudable in itself, but obviously badly thought out and executed.

  28. Cartimandua says

    The developers are murderers not terrorists.

    The real terrorists are even closer to home.

    “In the month of March so far, U.S.-led coalition airstrikes resulted in 110 separate incidents of reported civilian casualties, allegedly killing more than 1,200 people, according to Airwars, an organization tracking airstrikes. That number is already triple the previous high posted in January of this year. In January and February, the coalition surpassed Russia — whose forces have launched relentless airstrikes in parts of Syria — in the number of civilians killed,”

    You wouldn’t read about it. Would you?

  29. Gregory Greenwood says

    It is even worse than the OP suggests. The current confirmed death toll stands at 12, and scores of people are still missing. The police expect the death toll to increase several times over since the likelihood of anyone still being alive in the building is so low.

    Apparently, over seventy people are still hospitalized, with a significant proportion of them in serious condition.

    Greed and a disregard for the safety of tenants on this scale is surely criminal, but I doubt the ultimate responsible parties will ever be held to account – sadly, under our legal system, it seems money can wash a great deal of blood off one’s hands.

  30. Callinectes says

    It’s at 17 now.

    It should be noted that laws to improve safety regulations to prevent disasters like these were voted down by Conservative MPs, many of whom are landlords. There weren’t even any fire alarms. Many residents took it upon themselves to alert their neighbours, some of whom later regretted their actions as it resulted in their trapped neighbours dying awake rather than in their sleep.

    Conservative cuts to fire departments has massively hampered their ability to do their work. On this occasion one of them was injured by someone who had leaped from one of the upper floors to escape the flames, and many of the others witnessed children being tossed out of windows.

  31. Callinectes says

    Actually I’m hearing from the ground that the death toll is closer to 150, the media is either downplaying it (though reporter Jon Snow did say he’d been hearing the same when it was brought up or because there is so little left of the bodies. There are entire families missing but without survivors to report their absence it’s really hard to know.

  32. OptimalCynic says

    The newly elected Labour MP was apparently on the board of the management company for 4 years, so it’s a bit rich to see him jumping up and down about it.

  33. Gregory Greenwood says

    It looks like people have had enough of the feeble excuses from the government. A large protest has been in progress at regional government offices for the last couple of hours.