There is a misapprehension in the wider world, spread by advertising that businesses are there to serve the general populace (‘service is our middle name’, ‘we are here to help’ ‘we are here to serve you’). This is a lie. Businesses are there to make money for their shareholders. If they could get away with killing you and make a profit, some would. After all, the tobacco industry was doing that for decades. Cigarettes were recognised as the cause of the lung cancer epidemic in the 1940s and 1950s. Of course, as everyone now knows, cigarette manufacturers disputed the evidence as part of an orchestrated conspiracy to prevent the drop in cigarette sales. Cigarettes cause one lung cancer death per 3 or 4 million cigarettes smoked, which explains why the epidemic was so large1. In the United States, it is estimated there will be over 155,000 deaths from lung cancer in 20172, whereas in Australia, that number will be about 9,0003.
The Grenfell Tower disaster seems to have been at least exacerbated by the flammable cladding added to the outside of the building. It is estimated that there are another 600 high-rise buildings in England alone with similar cladding. Testing on another three tower blocks indicates that they too have flammable cladding. The conservative government has promised to work with local authorities to remove dangerous material.
However, if the local councils in England had been paying attention, they would have been able to read the report of the Victorian Building Authority’s cladding audit undertaken following the fire in the Lacrosse Apartments in Melbourne, in November 20145. A lit cigarette left on a balcony table started the fire, which engulfed 13 storeys in less than 15 minutes. Fortunately, no lives were lost. The cheap cladding used in the Lacrosse building was ‘Alucobest’, a composite cladding with Aluminium on the outside and polyethylene fibres on the inside. In combustibility tests commissioned by Melbourne’s Fire Brigade, ‘Alucobest’ caught fire in less than a minute. ‘Alucobest’ is cheap cladding imported from China, which does not meet Australian standards. It is considerably cheaper than the fire-resistant variety (‘Alucobond’), and they are almost impossible to distinguish from the outside. ‘Alucobond’ has a similar external Aluminium exterior, but has a mineral fibre core, which is fire-resistant6. So, if a builder is told that a cheaper product meets the Australian standard, what are they to do? Chances are they will go for the cheaper option, as it will maximise their profits.
It seems that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower did not meet UK standards, nor those of Europe or the US7. How it came to be used will be the subject of intense scrutiny, and presumably an enquiry. If anyone can be shown to have used it knowing it was substandard, they will be in a world of trouble, and rightly so.
The reason things like this happen is because of unbridled capitalism; the drive to cut costs and make greater profits. Nothing else seems to matter. It is only government regulation that stands between the average person and the profit-hungry capitalists. Don’t get me wrong; capitalism is the only way to run an economy. The failure of communism and assorted kleptocracies (are you listening Vladimir? Donald?) clearly demonstrate this. However capitalism must serve all the people, not just the wealthy. That is why the Conservatives, in bragging about their cuts to fire and other regulations in their ‘Cutting Red Tape programme to abolish what they see as ‘health and safety gone mad’, may regret bragging about it8. They can only hope that the Grenfell Tower disaster had nothing to do with their red tape cutting obsession. This red tape obsession is solely a product of the cosy relationship between big business and politicians. Big business is made more profitable by cutting corporate tax rates, or cutting regulation. This allows those big businesses to continue to donate money to political parties9. The assumption that the benefits to big business will trickle down to the rest of the population is simply a lie. What really happens is that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer10.
If governments do not fix this disparity between rich and poor, and look after the populace by reining in all the excesses of capitalism, there will be more examples of people shooting politicians (as happened in the US recently), but they will not be done by people who are deranged, but by those who are angry. Imagine how you would feel if fire regulations had been cut, such that it was your family who were burnt alive in a tower block because of those cuts to regulation. If that was me, I wouldn’t care which corrupt politician I shot.