“Let me be absolutely clear: the support for the families on the ground in the initial hours was not good enough. People were left without belongings, without roofs over their heads, without even basic information about what had happened, what they should do and where they should go to seek help. That was a failure of the state, local and national, to help people when they needed it most.”
It’s not often we quote politicians but on the Grenfell blaze, Theresa May was right. It was a complete failure of both the national state and government and the local state, Kensington and Chelsea Council, they failed to provide anything like adequate provision to the Grenfell survivors, but not just in the initial hours but for days to come. But it went beyond that. Both the national and local state were deeply implicated in the fire itself, with the cutting of fire services, the ignoring of repeated warnings by residents about the likelihood of a fire.
On the other hand, we had a great upsurge of grassroots solidarity, with volunteers from across London and as far away as Birmingham, bringing support and supplies, linking up with survivors and local community groups. They provided food, drink, clothes, bedding, toys and toiletries in vast amounts. When Camden Council ineptly moved tenants out of council blocks after panicking about fire risks, they again, like Kensington and Chelsea Council, treated them appallingly, failing to provide them with adequate information, and alternative housing, and generally treated them with the same contempt as Kensington and Chelsea Council. Local councils, whether Tory or Labour, have utter contempt for social housing tenants and for the working class in general. Camden Council failed to even provide water to the now homeless tenants, and this was left up to Grenfell volunteers who arrived to provide water.
There is a stark contrast between the response of the national and local state, and the emergence of grassroots voluntary organisation. This is not the first time this has happened after catastrophes, far from it. It illustrates the power of ordinary working class people to organise support networks. Another example is the creation of grassroots health centres in Greece with the collapse of the State health services.
This is anarchism in action. We must look more and more to this kind of grassroots organisation in the future as capitalism seeks to strip away social services in line with its strategy of austerity.