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Thursday, April 07, 2022


by Donna Katzin

On Friday [April 1, Christian Smalls] won the first successful unionization effort at any Amazon warehouse in the United States, one of the most significant labor victories in a generation. The company’s response to his tiny initial protest may haunt it for years to come. —The New York Times, April 2, 2022. Photo: Members of the new union celebrated in Brooklyn on Friday night. Credit: Eduardo Munoz Avarez/Associated Press

At the fulfillment center in Staten Island,      
every day a marathon, she logs 30 miles
in 12 hours on the warehouse floor,
wearing worn-out shoes she cannot afford to replace,
picking, packing boxes on dollies and hand trucks
before she clocks out.
Jeff Bezos, back from outer space,
could not finish one of her shifts.
Beneath fluorescent lights that never sleep,
during precious seconds between packages,
when her mind fights to focus,
she thinks of little ones
she left before breakfast,
not knowing whether she would
make it home to feed them dinner
or kiss them goodnight.
Computers track how fast she picks and packs
on the human conveyor belt,                               
evaluate her by algorithm,
feed back seconds per task,
pieces per minute, numbers to hit,           
speed up without notice or reason,
threaten to dismiss her                    
for missing her target rates.
Knees buckle, back rebels,                       
wrists and elbows numb, cramp.          
Stress takes its inner toll,   
presses veins and arteries,                                        
hangs heavy on her heart.
She reports to Amcare,                                  
is given an aspirin,                                           
sent back to the floor.                                       
But quietly, between shifts, 
as summer sweats and winter gnaws her weary bones,
she joins coworkers, shares indignities and injuries
by telephone and text, Twitter and Instagram,
in parking lots, food pantries and pews,
dares to tiptoe to a meeting,
whispers the word

Donna Katzin is the founding and previous executive director of Shared Interest, a fund that mobilizes the human and financial resources of low-income communities of color in South and Southern Africa.  A board member of Community Change in the U.S., and co-coordinator of Tipitapa Partners working in Nicaragua, she has written extensively about South Africa, community development and impact investing.  Published in journals and sites including The New Verse News and The Mom Egg, she is the author of With the Hands, a book of poems and photographs about post-apartheid South Africa’s process of giving birth to itself.