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Grenfell and firefighting: Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, at the Durham Miners’ Gala 2017


MATT WRACK:
Friends sisters, brothers, comrades! it is a honour to be here once again to speak on behalf of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) to the “Big Meeting”. I want to add our voice to the tributes to Davey Hopper, a true working class hero
who is very much missed across our movement. He was a great friend to us in the FBU and indeed to all of those engaged in
trade union and working class struggle. He was also… a unique master of the English language and particularly… that part of it which originated in old Anglo-Saxon. And we know that Davey and Davey Guy before him would want this wonderful, working class,
labour movement festival to continue and go from strength to strength, and I know that with your commitment, it will do so. Now, I’m here today, to speak specifically, about the terrible fire at
Grenfell Tower. And I know the thoughts of all of you
will be with all those affected, particularly those who lost family and
friends on that awful night. I know that, like millions
around the country, you will be full of praise for those who responded to the calls for help through 999 calls that night. Those in the London Fire Brigade;
the ambulance service; police officers who shielded firefighters entering the building from falling and burning debris; the council workers who tried to pick up the pieces afterwards; our remarkable hospital staff in our
National Health Service. We know also, that in the aftermath of this there was a remarkable community response a huge effort,
organised by people on the ground to look after those affected
– even while those in authority at local and national level
utterly failed to do so. I want to say something about our members, the firefighters, that night. I have spoken to quite a few, but by no means all. I was a firefighter for more than two decades and I’ve been around this industry now for 34 years. And I have never, in my professional life,
seen firefighters have to deal with a fire on that scale and with such a risk to life. I have never seen firefighters have to do the things that they did on that terrible night. Firefighting is based
on planning for risks. But the scale of the fire at Grenfell Tower was not planned for… because it should never have happened. In those circumstances firefighters simply could not apply the normal practices and procedures that enable them to do their job effectively in other emergency incidents. One firefighter described to me that the many, many decades of knowledge, skills. training and experience were brought to bear by the hundreds of people there to try to deal with a situation that nobody had prepared for and that nobody expected. Our procedures are there to enable firefighters to intervene, to save lives, to tackle fires and other emergencies. They have developed over many years and are based on knowledge, equipment
and experience. They enable firefighters to enter burning
buildings when other people are trying to get out. But firefighting equipment and personal protection does not turn those people into super heroes – they remain human beings. We had firefighters who became lost from their colleagues; teams that became split. We had firefighters whose air ran out
while they were trying to save lives. We had firefighters who gave their own
safety equipment to members of the public. We’ve had firefighters who entered that building again and again – against normal safe working practices – and why was that? Because they were determined to try to do what they could to save lives. and to do whatever was possible. And that night they did they did consciously and deliberately risk their own life in order to save others. It is a miracle, indeed, that we did not lose significant numbers of our own members that night. They did save lives. But tragically many people, far, far too many people died. And firefighters would say this; that they are proud to do that job. They are proud of their trade… It means that they will go into buildings like that knowing not what they might find but relying on their skills their knowledge their training and above all their teamwork in order to do that service for the public. And I would also say this about firefighters, and other people who responded that night; they’re also workers. And they are also by the way members of a trade union. And… almost to a man and a woman the people going into that building were members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). So the next time the press turn on us, take a moment; and look at the pictures of those firefighters queuing up in their breathing apparatus, to enter that inferno. And remind them… That’s what trade unionists look like. Now… Now we… In the FBU… stand… in solidarity…with the victims of this
appalling and horrifying event. We demand a full and accountable and open inquiry where the victims and those who attempted their rescue, are at the heart of that process. Because… this was no act of God. There was no higher power that ordained this event should or could happen. We live in a wealthy country. We live in a country with a huge knowledge of building construction. We have world leading experts on fire safety in this country. So this should not happen here – but it did happen here. This is a country that can send
remote controlled guided missiles
turning corners down streets half way across the world but we can’t keep people safe in their own homes. We have the right, therefore, to ask questions and to demand answers – and we have the right to demand action
as a result of those questions and that process. We will find, as we examine this incident that indeed, this was no act of god but rather, this is the result of a
series of decisions, a series, yes, of political decisions, that created this situation where this could happen. When there is a concerted attack over many, many years on council housing; when local authority building control is decimated and privatised; when fire safety inspecting officers in the fire service are reduced by more than half so that fire inspections are also reduced to that degree; when public fire research is virtually
eliminated in this country; when the government launches attack after attack on so called “red tape”; when a prime minister describes health and safety as a “monster” that must be slain; when local authority budgets are cut to pieces; when the fire and rescue service is devastated by cuts; when a former mayor of London, Boris Johnson, can say to someone challenging him
over closing 10 fire stations to “get stuffed”
and think it’s all a big joke; when all national standards in our fire and rescue service have been abolished; when the views of front line workers in housing departments or firefighters are regularly dismissed as “special interests”; when all these things happen over the years, then you create the environment when
this terrible, terrible tragedy can happen. and for us this needs, therefore, to be a turning point. And the best tribute that we can pay to those who lost their lives… is to fight for justice and fight for a major change in direction to ensure that this never happens again. and that means ending the attack the relentless on public safety. ending the attack on public services. That means ending the long term attack on public housing. So when they ask is this a direct result of austerity, I say it’s somewhat more complex than that. But it is a result of three decades of political assault on the public sector and public services and on those
who deliver them, it’s the result of three decades of telling us that the market is supreme and we should also run our public services
as well as though we were running a supermarket. And far from being a solution, those ideas and that system helped create this mess. They are wrecking our public services just like, in 2007/8, they wrecked the world economy. and instead of their approach, we look to the founding principles of this movement, that we can see reflected on the beautiful and magnificent banners that lead us in to the “Big Meeting” today. The people who built our movement, The people who built the trade unions carried in their hearts and in their heads the idea of a better way of doing things; that puts people before profit; that is based on human solidarity not the narrow interests of a tiny minority; it was called socialism. We need to discuss that today and organise for it tomorrow. Solidarity for ever! JEREMEY CORBYN: It was absolutly brilliant. JEREMEY CORBYN: Superb! And your members are just superb; and so are you.

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