Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Fire in the Bronx: Capitalist Mass Murder

A fire in New York City on Sunday killed at least 17 people. Eric Adams called it a “tragedy.” We call it premeditated murder by real estate speculators.

Nathaniel Flakin

January 10, 2022
Facebook Twitter Share
Eric Adams and others standing in front of the apartment building where the fire took place.
Photo: Michael Appleton

On Sunday morning, a fire broke out in an apartment building in the Bronx. It seems to have started with a malfunctioning space heater in an apartment on the second and third floors. Within minutes, flames and smoke quickly spread through the building. Soon, at least 19 people were killed — including nine children. More than 60 people were injured by the smoke, with 13 in critical condition.

New York City’s recently elected mayor, the former cop and Democrat Eric Adams, referred to the fire as a “tragedy,” but this was no act of God. 

The 19-story tower on East 181st Street opened in 1972 as part of a public-housing project. It is now owned by private investors who claim “that the fire alarm system was working and that there were no known problems with the smoke alarms,” as they told the New York Times. But they would say that, wouldn’t they? The building had a long list of violations, including mice and cockroach infestations, and one of these owners, Mark Gropper, had been named as part of Mayor Adams’ transition team for housing before he took office, revealing where Adams’ priorities lie and who he really represents.

It appears that a malfunctioning door allowed the smoke to spread. Had it closed automatically, as is required by law, smoke might not have been able to flood the building. Some residents at first ignored the alarm, as it went off at least several times a week.

New York City is the richest city in the world. Capitalists from around the world invest in properties that largely stand empty. Jeff Bezos, for example, has four apartments in one building valued at over $100 million dollars — just in case he ever wants to drop by the city. Wealth and resources are dedicated to building luxury condos — a fourth of which are not even sold, while many more are sold but remain unoccupied. At the same time, more than 100,000 children in the city are homeless. Every single year, New York City evicts 20,000 people from their homes. Despite a brief moratorium during the pandemic, this brutal machinery will restart soon when the moratorium ends in just five days.

Meanwhile, working-class people who do have housing are often forced to live in overcrowded and decaying apartment buildings. Even basic maintenance that could prevent tragedies like this is denied — supposedly for lack of funds.

In the history of capitalist urbanism, fires have often been a spark for change. The most famous example happened in 1911 right next to Union Square in Lower Manhattan. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire killed 146 workers — the owners of the sweatshop had locked the doors to prevent workers from leaving before they inspected their purses. The city’s working class responded with a wave of strikes and organizing, leading to new legislation to protect workers’ lives.

In 2011, the Grenfell Tower fire in London killed 74 people. Here too, residents had pointed out how cost-cutting measures were putting people in danger. In 2004, a fire at the Cromañón nightclub in Buenos Aires killed 174 mostly young people. Owners had chained most of the fire escapes shut to supposedly prevent people from entering without paying.

In all these cases, the fires were caused by capitalist greed. Eric Adams wants us to think of this fire as a tragedy, and he wants the city to come together. As socialists, we do want working-class and poor people to come together — in opposition to the real estate speculators and landlords who put our lives at risk. When workers die, capitalists act like we are all just a big family, but this is false. Politicians like Adams and capitalists are not on the same side as working people. So let us remember the works of socialist activist Rose Schneider, who said after the fire in 1911:

I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship. … Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement.

Facebook Twitter Share

Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from Berlin. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which has appeared in German, in English, and in French. He is on the autism spectrum.

Instagram

United States

Teachers protested against unsafe conditions in schools on January 5 outside Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

“No One Is Coming to Save Us”: Brooklyn Teachers Organize Sickout

Teachers at a Brooklyn middle school organized a sickout in response to the surge in Omicron cases. We interviewed one teacher who emphasizes the importance of education workers having the agency to determine whether their workplaces are safe.

Left Voice

January 10, 2022
Four sets of vector-graphic legs and feet, wearing different styles of clothing, walk together in the same direction. Beneath the legs there is large bold text that says "NYC Student Walkout for Covid Safety"

I Am a New York City Public High School Student. The Situation is Beyond Control.

An anonymous student spoke out on Reddit on January 6 to raise awareness of the impact of Omicron on students’ and teachers’ health, safety, and the state of education in schools in New York City.

Left Voice

January 9, 2022

Unsafe School Reopenings Aren’t About Kids. They’re About Capitalist Profits.

As Omicron surges across the country, capitalists are trying to get things “back to normal” at all costs. Unsafe school reopenings have nothing to do with students; they have everything to do with keeping the capitalist economy running.

Tatiana Cozzarelli

January 8, 2022

One Year After January 6: The State of the Right and the Re-Legitimization of the State

Today politicians will commemorate the anniversary of the Storming of the Capitol as the day that democracy was saved from an attack of wild Trump supporters. But the advance of the far Right won’t be stopped by the Democrats or by putting our faith in the undemocratic institutions of the United States.

Ezra Brain

January 6, 2022

MOST RECENT

Starbucks workers protest in front of Buffalo store.

Buffalo Starbucks Workers Strike over Unsafe Working Conditions

Workers at the recently-unionized Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York walked off the job last week, citing concerns over safety measures and staffing shortages. Against the backdrop of a ripple of Starbucks unionization drives in stores across the country and surging coronavirus cases, the Buffalo baristas’ collective action shows a path forward for workers to return to work on their own terms.

Madeleine Freeman

January 10, 2022

Student Workers of Columbia Reach Tentative Agreement

After more than two months on strike, the Student Workers of Columbia reached a tentative agreement for their union’s first contract with Columbia University.

Olivia Wood

January 8, 2022
Chicago Teachers Union members and their supporters march and protest in Pilsen after a press conference outside Joseph Jungman Elementary School to call for “safety, equity and trust in any school reopening plan” on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday morning, Jan. 18, 2021

“We Need to Stay Strong as a Union”: Interview with a Chicago Teacher

A Chicago teacher discusses this week’s vote to move to remote learning, and the backlash from Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Left Voice

January 7, 2022
A 'Help Wanted' sign is posted beside Coronavirus safety guidelines in front of a restaurant in Los Angeles, California

The Great Resignation Continues: 4.5 Million U.S. Workers Walked Off the Job in November

Low pay, lack of childcare, and dangerous working conditions are causing millions of people to quit their jobs. While this mass resignation may give labor some leverage to fight for higher wages and better benefits, it’s also a sign of the difficult choices working people continue to face as the pandemic rages on.

James Dennis Hoff

January 7, 2022