Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
‘We should have rioted,’ a youth I work with from North Kensington told me the other day. Eight weeks after the corporate massacre of Grenfell Tower, the mood in North Kensington is surreal. Where W10 and W11’s restraint and stoicism kept young Londoners away from violence, the death of Rashan Charles has stoked tensions.
The tinderbox has been set. Another spark could very well lead to 2011-style nationwide uprisings against the state. The only route out is for justice, in a broad sense, to feel like a tangible dream. But what does this look like?
North Kensington developed autonomous sites of relief and support through necessity, after central and local government showed an incapacity to serve the people. It was not the state, nor was it a love of the status quo, that kept the youth and malcontents from venting their rage, but the radical possibilities afforded by the voluntary relief effort. Just like in the riots six years ago, youths from warring territories put their beef on hold to engage in a broader struggle.
However, as we approach two months since the massacre, the cloak of normalcy and officialdom is being surreptitiously wrapped around the area. With the systemic violence of everyday life comes the return of meaningless hype wars of the youth. Keeping the ire from the fire directed at those in power is a necessity for social order, despite assumptions to the contrary.
The new council leader Elizabeth Campbell has willingly given members of the community and affected families her phone digits, though she has been known not to return calls, despite urgent needs being made clear in text and voicemails. The commitments to right the past administration’s wrongs have necessitated tapping into council reserves.
Under Campbell, quite radical overtures are being made to assuage the community; classic reform to conserve. Those who crave normalcy may warm, but most see the encroachment of the council into areas that felt liberated as a threat to public order.
Moreover, within North Kensington it’s abundantly clear that the crisis remains active. Only 14 families have been permanently rehoused. The vast majority of those who escaped the fire are living in the limbo of hotel living. The council has made deals where people can be housed in close-by West London boroughs. One family were offered multiple homes in Ealing, choosing one on offer, only to be told it was too expensive.
Neoliberal malfeasance was felt to have reached its nadir with Grenfell. Not only did systematic deregulation from central government allow for what happened, but corrupt local council leaders imposed needless and criminal austerity and made a joke of fire safety standards. Yet, when the scandals after the fire are properly catalogued, it’s clear that the market state simply cannot tap into any morality, an entirely alien value system to this stage of neoliberalism.
Residents of Lancaster West and Grenfell Tower warned their landlord, the KCTMO, in so many ways of their recklessness, but working class protestations – however articulate – were muted. With the world’s media focussing their lenses on the Lancaster West Estate, gardeners have beautified it, but exposed gas pipes continue to worry residents who are sure that the gas was a huge contributory factor to the Grenfell fire and is a threat to their life.
The culture of contempt is so profound that the blinkers that prevent councillors from hearing the inconvenient demands for adequate housing also stop the authorities from understanding the rage from the fire this time. The ruling class of the Royal Borough dismissed their subjects and presided over a series of events that undermined their very right to rule, and the people know it.
Where the state failed, the people excelled. As I type these words, volunteers continue to do logistical work to provide money for those affected. Yes, even eight weeks after the fire, there is still a voluntary system of aid distribution that has hundreds mobilised daily, thousands weekly. The state’s anarchy was, and continues to be, met by the people’s stability. Tonnage of gargantuan proportions continues to sift through the community’s hands.
Just last week, community organisations demanded that the provisions stored as far afield as Surrey be returned to the area and distributed by the community, for the community. Distrust of the state has meant most organisations in the area are seeking alternatives away from state structures. Much of the aid has been liquidated, the money being given to community funds.
However, while the organisations that mutated in the face of such community need became aid distribution centres, few now can afford to maintain the functions. Despite distrust towards the state and Gold Command, in many people’s eyes, it’s time they stepped up to the plate and took control of the logistics of aid. Tensions about how to empower the community have surfaced as a consequence.
The profound failures of power have left those on the front-line of community work continuously overwhelmed. As the dust settles, issues unseen continue to come to the surface. Many of those traumatised come to assist in the voluntary centres set up to help them. Meetings are everywhere and nowhere. The signs of trauma are ever-present. Resolutions, however, remain – at best – distant.
The survivors and affected residents are being hounded by the scavengers of disaster capitalism. The shock doctrine has come to the ends. The classic neoliberal device of providing services to conflicts is being put into practice, with many offering their CVs to stake their claim on the glut of money that is coming into the area. It is easy to paint the community as hostile and the state as in need of help ‘interfacing’. Many hours and days have been spent swatting the pests away.
When the corporate-minded outsiders aren’t present, the paternalistic and patronising methodologies of well-intentioned liberals bristle against the community. So many are keen to speak for the residents of Notting Dale and Latimer, few have taken the time to speak with them and win the support for the banner they seek the community’s unity under.
The issues of class oppression can be found anywhere. Numerous groups have been set up to serve the community, with few people from the community actually behind the initiative or empowered by it. The media, the documentary makers, the artists who came to paint the streets, the NGO workers and volunteers all came to serve the people. Often, they don’t know the people, and are dismayed when the skills they bring to the table are not warmly embraced.
The reality is that the community need time and space to depend upon themselves. Only then will they be able to take stock of what they need. However, time waits for few. The Westfield extension grows closer to the area by the day. The Westway and A40 halt the line of development for the time being, but the cranes loom large. Ask a young person in the area about what the future holds and they will not mince their words – they know the future is not being planned for those on low incomes to pay manageable rents. The Dale, one of London’s most long-standing working class communities, remains under threat.
The council have put their redevelopments in North Kensington on hold, for now. It is an indication that they know they went too far, too fast, with criminal consequences. The failure of the state was the breaking of the social contract. The whole edifice of society was broken by the events before, during and after the Grenfell fire. The conditions for life’s flourishing were not created by the state or its functionaries – a death trap was created instead.
The failures, the broken promises and the abject contempt shown by the local authority has meant even Gold Command are supportive of a kind of people’s council, where local community and voluntary leaders will be empowered. A radical rethinking of local democracy is surely demanded.
However, the demands go further. True localism requires not just representation where decisions are made, but a role in the budgeting and decision-making processes themselves. Grenfell would not have happened if the residents led the redevelopment of the tower.
After the fire, the 1,652 empty homes in Kensington would have had been subject to Compulsory Purchase Orders, the third of a billion the council holds in reserves being more than sufficient to cover it. That’s just common sense to those who see need and want to address it. However, the council thinks differently. Temporary housing is being offered. Long-term housing solutions in the area are being worked on, but at an unacceptable timescale.
For all their supplications, the state and local authority are banking on the status quo’s return. They are working on it slowly and methodically. Despairingly, the community will either have to accept it, or find the means to fight against it. However, two months on, with seasons to change soon, the radical possibilities of the present will soon become a past.
The restraint, resilience and resources of the people of North Kensington, shown after the crimes of state, must be rewarded. A status quo returning, with the community expected to repress their trauma and accept continued governance from failed institutions, is a further act of barbarism. Any further institutional violence must be resisted, or the whirlwind will be reaped.
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
'We wanted to use a shared love of the beautiful game to stand in solidarity with those living under occupation', writes Kate Hadley.
Priti Patel's shady deals are business as usual. Enough is enough, writes Eleanor Penny
Boris Johnson is a local disaster and a national embarrassment. He must go, writes James Clouting
The global elite have been stealing from society on an unprecedented scale, writes Tom Walker
Richard Murphy says that the appropriate political will and understanding of tax can put an end to offshore avoidance and evasion
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes