The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Fire in NYC:
Profits before Lives

Jan 17, 2022

Seventeen people, including 8 children, died in a fire in a New York City apartment building, while more people were hospitalized in critical condition. Nearly all of them were immigrants or family members of Gambian or West African descent.

The fire was in a 3rd floor apartment, started by a space heater that people were using to stay warm. When the people fled that apartment, the self-closing door did not work and failed to close behind them, which allowed smoke to escape into the hallway and up the stairwell. Another self-closing door on the 15th floor stairwell also was not working, which drew the smoke into the stairwell and throughout the building. The fire department arrived quickly and the fire itself was mostly contained within that one apartment. But many people died, not from the fire itself, but from smoke inhalation in other parts of the building.

Any fire in a large apartment building can be very dangerous. But this horrible loss of life in New York was completely preventable. People died because the wealthy owners of the apartment building neglected safety and cut corners on costs.

The apartment residents had long complained about the lack of adequate heat and they were forced to use space heaters to stay warm. The owners were required, by city housing codes, to have self-closing doors that would help contain a fire and smoke. But these owners previously had been issued several citations because self-closing doors were not working properly.

Besides self-closing doors, there are many other things that are available to make buildings safer. An automatic sprinkler system can help contain and even put out a fire. A pressured stairwell can stop fire and smoke from spreading throughout the building. There are building materials that are fireproof. But the city housing codes did not require any of these protections, especially in the older apartment buildings where working-class people tend to live. And the apartment owners chose not to spend money on any of these safety protections.

This apartment building was owned and managed by a joint venture of 3 investment firms and large housing corporations. The owner of one of these companies is a supporter and campaign donor to the new-elected mayor of New York City, Eric Adams. This joint venture received millions of dollars of state and federal government subsidies. The government justifies giving public money to wealthy investors by saying that the owners agree to accept a lower rent payment in the sky-high housing market in New York City. But the owners are still making a large profit. And what they don’t make in the form of higher rent, they turn around and decide to make by cutting costs, especially when it comes to safety. And the consequences of that decision are deadly.

Under this capitalist system, the owners and the bosses and the wealthy make decisions like this every day, putting the profits for a tiny group of rich people before human lives of the rest of us. That’s why it is a system that is no longer fit for human beings to live under.