Steve’s speech to the 2019 TUC Congress on behalf of the FBU:
President, Congress: Steve White, Fire Brigades Union.
On the 14th of June 2017 a fire occurred at Grenfell Tower in west London that killed 72 people. 72 people who had every right to believe that their homes had been built, maintained and refurbished with their safety from fire in mind. Those 72 people, and hundreds of others: bereaved, survivors, residents, deserve justice.
Last year, phase one of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry considered the events of that night, considered 668 statements from firefighters, operational and in control, and heard oral evidence from 88 of them.
I want to thank our members, at the incident and in control rooms, who were faced with a situation that they were never trained to deal with, who worked tirelessly throughout the night to save as many lives as they could.
I want to pay tribute to every member who gave a statement to the Inquiry, re-living that night sometimes at great personal cost, and to the members that we witnessed day after day giving oral evidence to the Inquiry, honestly, and clearly to the best of their ability.
I also want to place on record our thanks for the immense work of FBU officials from around the country who ensured that every member who gave evidence to the Inquiry was supported by their trade union. Our message to our members is clear: The FBU have got your back.
Congress, I also want to pay tribute to the community who continue to respond to this tragedy with dignity and tenacity.
We are all still waiting for the Inquiry’s interim report.
It is bound to be critical of the London Fire Brigade.
It may also make criticisms of individual firefighters.
Rest assured that we will respond robustly if any of our members are attacked by the Inquiry. It is our duty to ensure that our members are not scapegoated for the failings of those above their pay grade, be they fire service bosses or government ministers.
Phase two, what happened before and after the fire, is unlikely to start until next year and may go on for years. The FBU will continue to participate in the Inquiry as long as necessary. We have made detailed submissions about the fire safety regime, deregulation and the failures of politicians over many decades.
We need to remind politicians that the people who lived in Grenfell Tower are not to blame for what happened.
We need to remind politicians that firefighters are not responsible for the fire at Grenfell Tower.
The owners and senior managers of the building, the construction firms, the contractors, those who sold and installed the cladding, the fire doors, the windows, all need to answer for their role in this tragedy; as must local councillors who made decisions to contract out the building and ignored their own residents’ concerns and, above all, Westminster politicians who watered down fire safety regulations, imposed austerity on the Fire and Rescue Service (and indeed on all of us) and who failed to respond to the advice of coroners, fire safety experts and the warnings given by this union.
Congress, I ask you to support us in our campaign, Grenfell: Never Again.
We seek to engage with the community and other campaigners to demand:
The removal and banning of all combustible cladding. (And comrades, I’m sure that you all saw pictures of the fire at Worcester Park in the early hours of yesterday morning and asked questions about its construction).
A national review of the Stay Put policy.
The strengthening of tenants’ rights.
New national structures for the Fire and Rescue Service, and
An increase in specialist fire safety officers.
Comrades, we must make sure that nothing like Grenfell Tower ever happens again.
Congress, I move.
Justice for Grenfell!
We might know a song about that (but you’ll have to ask us when you see us).