Forget retiring by age 55, some people are looking to retire (in some cases for a second time) from their current line of work by age 90. Can they do it?
I hope so!
How are they going to do it? By adopting a time honoured way of working together and organizing: they’re going to form a union! A union of food bank volunteers in fact. Calling themselves the Freedom 90 Union (check them out by clicking here) they have a few simple demands.
First off, they want to be laid off! They want the government to take urgent action to address income support programs like Ontario Works, and measures like the minimum wage, so that people can buy their food instead of having it given to them at an emergency food program. Second, they want to see the end before they reach age 90. Action should be sooner rather than later. Third, they joke, freeze or double our wages! Since they are all volunteers, to them, it doesn’t matter. They only want to see food banks close their doors, and the need for them to disappear into thin air.
Are they going to picket? Will they strike if their demands are not being met?
Well, no, not likely. They’re not actually forming a real union, but instead, are stretching the union metaphor to drive home a very important point. Poverty is the problem and we can only deal with it by organizing, talking about it and working to hold people accountable. In the past, people organized to form food banks, meal programs and hamper programs because they saw a need and thought they could fill in, until things got better. Well, sadly, they didn’t get better. In fact, they are getting worse.
At our own program we have seen a very strong start to the year. Already, we have passed the 12,000 hamper threshold which means this has been the busiest first four months of the year on record. Those hampers have helped 5000 different households through difficult times. Sitting at those 5000 kitchen tables were more than 4500 children and teenagers – children in high chairs, booster seats, kids just able to see over the table and school age kids. That’s about 90 school buses end to end full of kids. Is this what we want for Kitchener Waterloo? Do we want to have a community where you can work full time, count every penny, and still not have enough for both food and rent?
When we ask people if they want more help than we are currently able to give them, over half of them say they do. Our numbers grow with each recession and do not go down. We could build a bigger building, try and get more food here, but would it solve any problems? It would solve an immediate need, but it wouldn’t take away the reasons that bring people to our door.
Should we go on strike to make a point? Stop feeding people? Clearly this is not a solution. Who could live with themselves, saying, “I will not feed you today to make a point about hunger”? But we must speak up and speak out – like the people behind Freedom 90. You can have your say as well. If you volunteer, join their “union” and get involved. If you don’t volunteer you can still talk about it, ask questions, and talk to your local members of parliament and ask them why food banks like ours keep doing a booming business all year round.
Recently, the United Nations sent a representative named Olivier De Schutter to Canada to investigate our governments commitment to meeting its citizens human right to food (look for a blog post soon by Erin to learn more about him). His conclusions (available here) reflected our daily experience and the reasons for the Freedom 90 union to form. People are hungry and they’re going to be for a long while yet, unless we do something serious as a society. What are you doing to join the conversation? Comment and let us know.