Part of our History, Giannitsa, my experience at work

For three years, I have been working during the summer in a factory, deep-freezing fruit and vegetables. On the assembly line, where I work there are three eight-hour shifts. My own job consists in removing all kinds of waste from the halves of fruit that file past me: pieces of stalk, microscopic pips, blades of grass, rotten fruit, nothing is allowed to go unnoticed. Of course, many things always pass unnoticed...and we are made aware of it straight away!

Once again this year when the factory reopened the same group of workers signed up. The supervisors were the same and it was to do the same work! It seemed as if it was the same fruit that filed past indefinitely between our hands! Months have passed since handling the last peaches and the arrival now of the first apricots, but it seems to us that we left the factory only a few days ago and immediately experience the same feelings, hopes and the tiredness we left behind.

The trucks, huge sleeping beasts, are waiting to leave with their loads. We cross the vast empty yard, surrounded by the coolness of the fields, the sheds and behind, in the distance, mountains and sky.

With our white coats, white headdresses, aprons and gloves, we clock in and set to work! The smell, the noise, the endless movement of orange fruit on the blue mats become blurred. In the mist of this automated movement, the mind can escape far away, to other worlds.

In some ways the factory is like a boat with its metallic ladders, its frail footbridges like gangways, all the machines and big chimney pipes with their coils of smoke. The supervisors shout their orders. They almost bark because of the noise and their voices take on a horrible metallic sound. They become dehumanized and you only want to plug your ears in the din.

We communicate among ourselves with gestures, but when this does not work, we shout too with the same metallic tone, that hurts the eardrums. Otherwise, we throw a piece of fruit in the direction of the one we want to talk to and the call is all the easier to interpret as the possibilities are limited :  ‘What time is it?’ or ‘Are you falling asleep?’ or ‘Come and replace me, I am going to the toilet.’

Escape to the toilets is part of the programme. Some even allow themselves two breaks, one before lunch and one after. When I started, a compassionate co-worker, seeing that I did not comply with this ritual, urged me to take my turn and I answered that I would not hesitate if needed. Then, with a wink, she explained to me that even without a need, I should take this little interlude to relax.

LSJ Greece Giannitsa Fruit sortingLSJ Greece Giannitsa Fruit sorting

After one or two hours of work, a little procession towards the locker room begins to form itself, which only stops just a little before the break or time to go home. We replace each other and return with the precious information of what time it is! Sometimes too you meet a co-worker who is well-informed about the only topic which interests everybody and occupies every mind: How many days of work do we still have? Will we have enough work to claim unemployment? All through the season we calculate and there are contradictory rumours and anxious speculation: if there is no hail...if there is no strike...if the harvest is plentiful..if..if....

We have two supervisors, in charge of us. There is a whole hierarchy, of which I do not fully understand the degrees: we are the rank and file. There is a corporal and an officer. Our corporal knows very well how to give orders with great self-control and is always ready with a quick answer. However when any of the fruit is spoilt, you could believe that it is the end of the world and that nothing is as important as the tragic fate of the lost peaches!

Sometimes it happens that a vat washing the peaches high up in one of the machines, suddenly expels not only a shower of water but the peaches too! One of the supervisors races to the machine, rushes to the control board and nervously pushes a whole bunch of buttons. After a long time, the bombardment stops and we pretend we are picking up the peaches. Then a second bombardment is triggered off! We run to the shelters. There is a lull which is followed by more flying peaches and the repair team keep busy... One of them at last with a modest smile and triumphant gesture displays the faulty piece. The machine is repaired and our break time is over! The next day we have the unpleasant surprise to notice on our timecards, that the half-hour of idleness due to the damage has been subtracted from our time of work....

The very big boss is his own master. He is the one in whose hands our fate rests, the one who consents or not to inscribe us on his lists, grants or denies us the possibility of work, the one whose protection we covet. His visits to the factory are not predictable. He walks along the assembly lines with a solemn and slow pace and has nothing to fear from anybody: He is not however the absolute master but like his expression. The big boss himself never shows up. He moves in other spheres. We know his name and some pride themselves in knowing him, but for most of us, he has not much more reality than a distant divinity quite foreign to our condition!

Our closest comrades in arms are men in charge of emptying the waste, that each one of us throws in the crate placed beside her. Their job is unending cleaning the immense surfaces of waste which continually fall on the ground. They have the hardest job. The crates which they lift are full of rotting fruit and they must work quickly in order to manage to empty all of them before the first ones are being filled again. They also have to drag towards the exit the enormous containers with the contents of the crates. After a few minutes of work, they are already soaked, because they cannot avoid being splashed by the water which falls from the assembly lines and machines, between which they weave their way.

There exists a bond between us all in these difficult working conditions. We try to be patient. The hardest aspect is to bear standing all day and often being motionless for long hours. There is the physical pain, the fatigue and sometimes the irrepressible urge to sleep. We try to carry on with our job as best we can and for many weeks endure the endless succession of ‘days of work’. Sometimes we work during the day and sometimes at night, without being able to distinguish day from night. Once inside the factory we repeat the gestures of the day before, with the same rhythm, the same tiredness and longing for the break and time to go home. The time we spend at the factory is a time fragmentized into seconds, minutes, hours. It is arithmetical time, not living time following the rising of the sun to its setting, with the preparation of the meals, shopping, the end of the school day, the smells and noises connected with the activities of the day. The time that we spend inside the work place is like living in a time capsule. There is no indication that life is moving on and when we leave in the early morning or at the hottest part of the day or else at nightfall, we feel with a pang of anguish, that time has gone by without us. The only visible result of our pain, the only victory, is to have crossed the day, the evening or the night!

'Isn't this the experience of so many people in every continent? With them I share a common humanity and Jesus, by becoming one of us embraces that humanity. With him I too want to embrace this humanity.'