On Monday morning, Palestine Action activists returned to the Arconic factory in Birmingham. The team have sparked a rooftop occupation of the site, and blocked the front gates, halting business for guilty Arconic and demanding Justice for Grenfell, five years on.
Today’s action was taken in solidarity with the 72 who lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire, and all other victims of the fire, which was facilitated by Arconic. The company built and distributed the cladding and insulation systems used in Grenfell Tower and are still in use in housing across Britain. Fire Expert Witnesses found the materials “substantially to blame for the tragedy” and found them to be “the primary cause of upward vertical fire spread, downward vertical fire spread, and lateral fire spread.”
As well as manufacturing the cladding, Arconic allowed its use in towers across the country, facilitating the fire. The Grenfell public enquiry revealed that Arconic was aware that the cladding was and is highly flammable, yet it sold it anyway – the risks kept secret from customers, for fear of fewer sales. Claude Wehrle, Arconic’s technical manager at the time made sure that the cladding’s flammability was to be kept secret.
“In 2017, 72 lives were cut short in the Grenfell Tower Fire.”, Palestine Action spokesperson said. “Half a decade on from the fire, no Arconic members have faced any accountability, over a million remain housed in firetrap towers across Britain and justice is nowhere to be found. The deaths were sanctioned by the state and firms like Arconic, who march to the drumbeat of industry. Today, we take action seeking to oppose and expose the crimes of Arconic, to enact unity and solidarity between interwoven struggles and we hope, to enforce some degree of justice for the victims of the Grenfell Tower Fire, who have as yet received none.”
In addition to the manufacture and sale of unsafe cladding, Arconic produces vital goods used in military aircraft – specifically, Boeing Apache Helicopters and Lockheed Martin F-35 Fighter Jets. Both are supplied to the Israeli military occupation, who routinely put them to use in aerial assaults on Gaza, leaving scenes of terror on the ground.
Last year, the activists who occupied the site on the fourth anniversary of the trial were given disproportionate and drastic bail conditions. After the action elicited a strong community response, as night fell, police took to brutalise the crowd of peaceful protestors. One of the two activists was placed on remand, enduring a hunger strike in protest of their treatment and the ongoing repression dealt to Palestine Action. The group is no stranger to repression and in light of activists’ recent imprisonment, has urged supporters to “repression into resistance” and take direct action.
Palestine Action find Arconic guilty on both charges – Arconic is one part of a supply chain structured to diffuse responsibility and mystify the vital role of companies like Arconic in enabling and fostering dispossession and death, here in Britain and in Palestine. The government’s inaction has spurred activists to use direct action and enforce justice through the closure of Arconic’s Birmingham factory.
All images by Guy Smallman.