The subject of foodbanks has become an important topic in politics, with many Labour MPs criticizing David Cameron for the expansion of foodbanks and society’s sudden need for them. Here, community activist Nancy Taafe explains why she thinks foodbanks themselves must become political in her second guest post for us.
Please note that this is a guest post and may not reflect the views of the foodbankers.
I last contributed to this blog around six months ago and in that time an extra 100,000 people have been added to the food bank queues; it seems that attendance at foodbanks is one of the few growth areas of the economy.
I was concerned that in my last post I may have appeared to be criticising the mere existence of foodbanks. I’m not. I recognise the important role foodbanks play in preventing a whole layer of people falling into absolute destitution; the volunteers and coordinators are selfless individuals who want to do good.
Foodbanks must become political
My view is that foodbanks should become unapologetically political. Foodbanks should imitate the best traditions of the soup kitchens and squatter camp of the 1930s.
Foodbanks should not only feed people but inspire and organise those that they feed to join up with a wider movement attempting to defeat this unnecessary austerity.
Even though many of us are suffering, there are those out there that are doing just fine. According to the recently published Sunday Times Rich List, the UK’s 1,000 richest residents have a total wealth of £450 billion.
There are 88 billionaires among the UK’s super-rich, including 15 individuals and families. These 15 families and individuals have a combined wealth of £119 billion. That’s enough to give every household in the UK more than £4,500, with billions still remaining! Imagine if that money was invested in jobs, public services and decent council housing. Then the 350,000 people queuing at foodbanks could be employed, housed and fed. Surely that’s not too much to ask in the 21st century.
If we acquiesce to the cuts or settle for a welfare state based on philanthropy then we are doing the propaganda work of the government who wanted this model of state provision far before the financial crisis of 2008.
Charity needs to be political
I believe charity without politics disguises the role that could be played by the victims of this crisis to fight back against the injustices that have been perpetrated against them. A movement that organised those receiving food parcels would be a force to reckon with.
As a start I would like to see the TUC organise a 24-hour general strike. The TUC is still the biggest and most authoritative organisation for the working class, it represents over six million people. For all those suffering at the moment, whether queuing up at food banks or in the unemployment lines, a 24-hour general strike would fuse all the helplessness, discontent and the anger together and would direct it against the people who did this to us. I think the time is not only ripe for this to happen, it is rotten ripe.
Rise of fascist parties if not careful?
I would like to finish with a word of warning. If the labour movement doesn’t step forward and organise the victims of this crisis into a united struggle against austerity then other forces will.
People who are receiving food parcels at the moment will be questioning how this came to happen to them. If it is not answered with class politics it could be answered with right-wing nationalism, as in Greece. In Greece whole villages that were wiped out by the Nazi invasion during the Second World War are now voting for the fascist Golden Dawn.
The Golden Dawn built their organisation by feeding the unemployed first and then fused this service with right-wing racist propaganda. Their organisation has gained some traction in working class communities based on the absolute betrayal of the trade union leaders and social democracy to build a coherent fightback. We can’t let that happen here. It’s time to organise the hungry.