joe hill 2021

When I was 9, I attended

the Avenue Methodist Church in Middlesbrough.  I had been brought up to visit any place of worship with appropriate dignity but just in case |I sound too holier than thou, I went because Derek Moore did.  I liked Derek and he lived near me.  It is the first place I ever heard a missionary speak, a tall white haired old man from whom I think I heard the phrase “hands across the sea” meaning good wishes from distance.

I am not an Amazon fan. 

The overpacking makes me spit bullets.   And a friend told me about watching the delivery man unable to raise her by ringing the bell, walking back down the hall (mansion block) and just throwing the package aside.  “They are paid so badly, they don’t care whether they deliver or not.” Always another unit, always another trip.

Recently I came on a story about Bessemer, Alabama where there is an enormous Amazon packing station – because there isn’t much else.  27,000 people, 71 per cent black, 25 churches.  Average shift 10 hours with two 15 minute breaks which, given the size of the plant, means some won’t be able to pee and eat.  (See Hidden Figures, a film based on the true story of three Afro American women working for NASA on the 1960s for a stunning scene when the brilliant mathematician explains in rage and humiliation that she must use the coloured lavatory and it takes time to get there and back – that’s why when her supervisor looks for her, she is often unavailable.)

Bessemer decided to try to unionise.  Amazon can’t forbid this, that would be against the law.  But they can make it as difficult as possible for people in a town where there aren’t a lot of options.   I found the story on NextDraft, rerun from VOX in the US and on Monday 29 March, Bessemer made it into the Times Business Pages.   Of course the backstory is not simple but the majority of the churches support the bid to unionise and this is Martin Luther King country.  Not much point in asking people to pray if you don’t help them eat.

So I went back to the original US coverage and found a photograph of a church with the name clearly displayed and wrote a letter of support to the Pastor.  It really just says thinking of you, good luck, discrimination against the low paid works out as discrimination against everybody, I am old and white and you’re in my prayers.   I could have chosen the one place where they’re against the union.  But I sent it. 

Hands across the sea.

I had a fine weekend which included a birthday but somewhere in there I developed a cold – the real McCoy, an oldfashioned stuffed nose, hacking cough, hot and cold job.  And like a fool I have run out of slow release Vitamin C.  I can make it through 24 hours, I’ll get it tomorrow.  Until I mentioned it to a friend who leapt forward with outstanding Amazon credit and arranged to have what I needed sent to me – and then wrote and said “Don’t be mad !”   I’m not mad, I’m grateful.  So you can see that Amazon has a role in my life,

though if they had to live on me they’d starve.

Would I have done that for myself ?  No.  I don’t know how.  Will I accept it when somebody does it for me ? Of course, with appreciation.  Does it make me feel any better about those arch and expensive television ads telling what nice people Amazon really are ?  No.   Seventy years ago Goebbels would have directed them to offer the benign face of Hitler and praise the autobahn.  There is always somebody trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

 It’s only a few years ago we were all trying to save trees.  Now we’re knee deep in paper pulp (made from trees) and Amazon is so much part of present day life that we accept its terms without question.   Unless you’re poor and you know the fight is right. 


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