The subject for this second part of ‘Enemies Within’ our communities (The political and bureaucratic elite) was originally meant to be the third in the series. However, in view of the tragic events in London of the high-rise, towering inferno at Grenfell House in Kensington, I have decided to bring it forward, for this ‘enemy within’ is deeply implicated. It has become clear that the residents of this block of working-class homes had made many complaints (at least eight) to the local politicians and bureaucrats who held housing oversight positions which would have allowed them to take preventative measures, if they had taken the complaints and their responsibilities seriously. They did not. Like their national elite equivalents, they drew their salaries and expenses and not only ignored evidence provided by the residents but it appears they threatened legal action against the representatives of the tenants.
They are not the only ones who in terms of struggling humanity now represent another tier of ‘enemies within’. This dismissive response to the concerns of working people is typical of of the Anglo-Saxon political and bureaucratic elite over the last 40 plus years. At all levels, local, national and international, indifference and even antipathy to working class struggles has become a global disgrace. Yet, the financial, economic, bureaucratic, media and political classes here in the UK and the US show no evidence of shame or a desire to come clean about their own absolute and relative levels of culpability. The so- called ‘duty of care’ may seem to some a bit of a joke but it is far more than that. It is the opposite. Under any system dominated by capital, there is no heart-felt duty of care, there is merely rhetoric disguising systematic exploitation, neglect and abuse.
Housing is one of the areas of life in which the working classes have been dumped in the cheapest, shoddy, unhealthy, unsafe and inconvenient locations since the domination of the capitalist mode of production. The Victorian slums and terraces of the 18th and 19th century may have been cosmetically upgraded in many places, but housing for all but the most privileged white-collar workers is still the shoddyist than can be indifferently supplied. Make no mistake about it, like accidents at work, the conditions at this tower block is the result of elite class decisions which have a long history. Grenfell Tower was an accident waiting to happen, and it flowed logically from the increasingly anti-working-class cost-cutting measures which commenced during the era of Thatcher, was supported by Blair and New Labour, and continued under Cameron, Clegg and now May.
Privatisation and de-regulation have been the two disgusting faces of the neo-liberal elites insatiable lust for accumulating wealth and profit at the expense of those who actually create it. How could it be otherwise? Privatisation of house – building, as with all other aspects of privatisation, means that profit comes before safety, for those private companies who undertake such activities. With regard to the development of high-rise tower housing itself, this was clearly based upon cutting costs as hundreds of people can be housed on a plot of land that normally would only house a few. Building vertically, is cheaper in land costs per family than building horizontally. In addition, there is no need to provide green spaces for each tenant – so even more savings. Build it up tall, pack them in and collect the rents and council taxes to fund an increasingly bloated local government elite. The salaries of the chief executives of even small local authorities have reached obscene levels and of course national elites have seen their salaries, expenses and conditions keep pace with their local counterparts.
From the building of the first 1970’s tower – blocks, cost cutting continued with the laying of concrete foundations. Some building workers on various sites at the time complained these were not all up to acceptable standards – but of course they we’re ignored. This parsimonious profit-seeking attitude continued throughout the construction period with the introduction of low grade steel and other essential materials along with the absolute minimum of safety features. Again; how could it be otherwise? The economic system is set up to perpetuate production for profit. In the eyes of the local and national elites, these on-site complaints were only coming from workers with no university degrees and little power.
This arrogant and patronising attitude was continued with regard to the future tenants of these concrete industrial monstrosities who they knew would also lack power to effectively complain or otherwise influence any future administrative decisions. Lets face it, very few people would really choose to live in relative or absolute environmental, and social poverty 20 or more stories high. However, the poor and moderately paid working class in London or elsewhere, were priced out of any other choice. Like it or lump it was the choice they faced and this was precisely the attitude stemming from the elites of all political persuasions who think working people should be grateful for anything they condescend to offer them. You are nothing and we are everything is the attitude of the bourgeois and petite-bourgeois elite to working people – until they need their votes or their spare cash to turn into profit.
There have been more recent harbingers of such fires in other sub-standard housing developments and the safety implications deliberately ignored. Camberwell 2009, Dubai 2015 were just a few of the many ‘lessons’ available for those who really wanted to learn. However, this time the loss of life was just too high to ignore. In scale, the Grenfell Tower disaster has been likened to the hurricane Katrina events in the USA, although many more lost their lives in Gulf region. Yet in many ways it is more like an inverted version of the so-called unsinkable engineering masterpiece – the Titanic. There too the low paid were housed out of sight while a fire raged, and found themselves unable to escape when the final disaster struck. At Grenfell the poor and low-paid were also housed vertically out of sight in a supposedly non-flamable, recently refurbished, so-called architectural masterpiece. Yet like the steerage class of so long ago (and the inhabitants of New Orleans etc) they too had little or no chance of escape in the event of a serious incident, such as an explosion, structural collapse or in this case fire. Was this tragedy an accident? Not really. An accident is something that cannot be avoided. This could have been. So why wasn’t it? The answer lies in the chain of events encapsulated in the term neo-liberalism.
The roots of the present socio-economic crisis in housing, employment, education, health-care and environmental deterioration, date back to the Thatcher and Reagan political era of the 1970’s. That period marked the definitive end of the post-Second World War marriage of convenience between labour and capital; between the working classes and the capitalist classes. The 1939 -1945 war had saved the Anglo-Saxon (UK, USA) branches of joint capital (industrial, commercial and financial) from control and domination by the Germanic and Japanese branches. For that the western elites were grateful to the millions of working people who in that war had sacrificed themselves on behalf of their so-called ‘betters’. Welfare capitalism, in various national forms was the marriage gift by a grateful elite to the remaining working classes of Europe and North America, but like typical patriarchal and oppressive partners the owners of capital soon grew tired of their promises to cherish and be faithful to the workers. Once again the capitalists abandoned the workers to the dictates of ‘market’ forces, (ie their market forces) motivated as they were, by a lust for ever more profit.
For a period, the results of this neglect and abandonment was resisted by the organised workers in trade unions in the form of strikes, sit-ins and demonstrations, but this was to no avail. With a powerful state machine and an eagerly supportive media, the ruling classes were able to win the propaganda battles and defeat the practical struggles. Working people were eventually left with no organised defence to capital’s manipulations and the neo-liberal programme could proceed unhindered. Since the early neo-liberal decades, the cuts to local government spending by national governments, have gained additional support and annual traction. This has resulted in further cost – cutting measures for all the services provided by local (and in the US state) governments. In the UK, the increased privatisation of basic services, such as housing, water, electricity, gas, postal services, tele-communications, transport, prisons, education, health and care of the elderly, has detrimentally and disproportionally effected the working classes, both white-collar and blue-collar.
This will ensure that many more serious accidents (sic) are likely to happen in the future lives of working people, such as fires, floods, collapses, explosions, chemical spills etc., as the national elites continue to cut costs, privatise and deregulate as many areas of working class life as possible. The condition of care homes for the bulk of the working class elderly, for example, is similarly disasterous to life even though the individual victims are spread across, thousands of now privatised residences throughout the advanced capitalist countries. Young and middle-age working-class people, in particular, should demonstrate solidarity with the elderly and campaign for better conditions of care, for that is exactly where they will finish up if the system doesn’t get them earlier.
By their actions and often by lack of action, the national political and bureaucratic elites represent the top tier of the ‘enemies within’ their respective communities, but they are not alone. This top-tier of course could not impose their policies without the active support and involvement of local elites who administer and bureaucraticaly manage them. Instead of refusing to implement unsafe practices, and cost-cutting exercises these career-orientated renogrades maskerading as representatives and champions of local democracy, enthusiastically embrace them or like the defendents at Nurembourg declare they are merely following orders given from above. The disasters and the self-serving rationalisations which follow are bad enough, but what usually follows such events compounds the insult.
The diehard commitment to neo-liberal capitalism means that when modern disasters such as Grenfell, New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities occurs, the task of post-disaster restoration is handed to quango agencies and the private sector – the very group who benefitted from creating most of the problems in the first place. Having made profits from shoddy building and sub-standard facilities, the private sector are granted the privilege of making profits out of doing it all again – including further opportunities for financial corruption. To add insult to injury, the governmental elites graciously provide any relief funding needed to the private sector – out of tax-payers forced contributions. That is to say partly out of the pockets of those who have worked hard and suffered the most. Leaving aside any possible or rather probable back-handers, Neo-liberal capitalism is a ‘heads we win; tails you lose’ scenario for the economic, social and political elite.
The political and bureaucratic elite.
There are many who are culpable within this neo-liberal system, but most of them are doubly culpable. Through conscious neglect, deliberate actions and calculated inactions, as at Grenfell, the Thames floodings, New Orleans and elsewhere, the political and bureaucratic elites at local and national level have gambled that – as usual – they will be able get away with indifference and looking after number one. They will still hope to do so. Prolongued Inquiries, vast quantities of documents, together with cover-ups, convenient memories, restricted parameters of information gatbering and elite bias will undoubtedly see blame numerically thinned out and dissipated across time and successfully buried among volumes of evidence.
This was the case with the Hillsborough, the Iraq (Chilcot), the Leveson and many other Inquiries in the UK. At best a few scapegoats may be sacrificed to salve the consciences of the middle-classes (particularly those in the media) and to appease the discontent of the under-privileged, before business as usual returns. The reputation of the political class as a whole and the current socio-economic system which spawns all the problems facing humanity, will both undoubtedly emerge unstained and hardly mentioned and this will render them guilty not only of willful neglect but also of an obvious system cover up.
Working people, white-collar and blue-collar, need to recognise (as many already do) that the political elite at the local, regional and national level also represent enemies within the ranks of struggling humanity. They represent an intermediate (and often parasitic) layer between the owners and/or controller’s of capital and the working classes who by hand and brain staff our essential services and manufacture and service the products we need. These local and national elites are also responsible for sowing reformist illusions among ordinary people as to how they can improve their situation. They peddle the same message to each new generation relying upon short memories and naivity. These politicians and bureaucrats are certain to make only paltry recommendations which ‘conserve’ them and their system intact.
An important role they play in defending and preserving the capitalist mode of production, is to perpetuate the illusion that there are political solutions (local or otherwise) to the compound crises facing humanity – of which the Grenfell House disaster was merely the latest example. Politicians of all persuasions collaborate in defending capitalist – based forms of production and consumption along with their own administrative (or managerial) role within it. As such we can expect numerous expressions of sorrow and regret along with myriads of excuses and rationalisations, but no radical critique of the system. They will seek to direct every new outburst of anger and disatisfaction into the ‘safe’ parliamentary channels which they control. In contrast revolutionary-humanists ‘reject illusions even before they are burst by experience and their emptiness proved’.
Decades ago there was a movement by humanist inspired employees of local government, public services and state institutions which bore the title ‘In and against the State‘. Their mission was to oppose and whistle blow on any actual or proposed measures aimed directly or indirectly at worsening the social and economic position of the working classes and the poor. There is an urgent need for recreating such an organisation for those who currently do not wish to be part of the problem or be classed as an ‘enemy within’ the ranks of struggling humanity. So far Snowden, Manning and Assange along with their few supporters have individually trod such a path, but there is much more to do. There are not only the inhuman machinations of a greedy war-mongering elite to expose and oppose but the callous indifference of local and national elites to be thwarted, not to mention a planetary eco-system to save as well.
Roy Ratcliffe (July 2017)