Written by TBB delegate Soph R Davenberry of Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association, Local Union 66
On June 14th, 2022, TBB Delegates attended the Grenfell Tower Memorial March in West London, on the 5th anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire which killed 72 people in the immediate event with many afterwards from subsequent trauma.
A group of about 20 delegates proceeded to West London after the Research Forum to participate in the march on the 5th anniversary of this terrible disaster which could have been prevented. The delegates got separated en route to the march, marching about 5 min apart among thousands of people, in silence, for a few miles through the borough with the course ending at the Grenfell Tower site. The Memorial Commission, led by family members of the dead, organizes two such marches a year on Jun. 14th and Dec. 14th. For this occasion, the barriers surrounding the site were lowered allowing marchers to view the memorials placed at a plywood barricade at the base of the tower. Video screens, speakers, and a drone camera had been arranged to accommodate the large crowd gathered to hear numerous speakers, from members of the commission to leading sports figures from the borough, with a distinct call for accountability for the shortfalls in the construction industry which led to the disaster.
The entire experience was truly powerful. I was in the group that had fallen behind the other group and we weren’t entirely sure where we were going, but from the tube train I could see the march as we passed overhead so we hopped off to join in. The silence was remarkable, that residents in the neighborhoods might not even know such a large group was going by. Marchers were wearing green, which I happened to be wearing also. Especially stirring was a group of firefighters (members of the fire brigade UK term) lined both sides of the street under a bridge. We caught up to the first group in time to be together for the shared words. The names of all who died we read, interspersed with the gathering citing honor to them.
I have studied this fire because it relates directly to my industry—the fire started from a small combination fridge-freezer unit which members of my trade service. The Aluminum Composite Materials (ACM) panels are manufactured and installed by sheet metal workers. The fans and dampers for smoke control are manufactured, installed, and maintained by members of my trade. I have experience doing all of these things. One of the most significant things about a union tradesworker is that when we have the solidarity of each other, we also have the power to speak up when things are wrong, whether that’s wages, working conditions, and especially safety. The specific individuals and companies in the UK are most likely not unionized (although some counterparts in the U.S. and Canada are). And I wonder at what points having a skilled, trained, properly compensated and respected workforce could have made a difference. That’s all part of the mission of this conference for me.