Out of a job, as of today, a machinist looks back on her 11 years’ shift work at a factory

She’s called Kyriaki Nioti, but the name is not important. What is important is that she’s one of the 486 women from the Palco underwear factory losing their jobs this week. She could be any one of them. «I worked at Palco for 11 years. Before that, I’d worked at a similar place, a smaller one, for four years – Champion sportswear. It closed down in the same way. I’m a machinist.» Now she’s unemployed. The retrenchments from the factory will continue till they reach 512, including the drop in personnel in recent years. «Another 300 have left. They’ve been dismissing people for three to four years. At first they dismissed the older workers, then they got rid of 10 people a month. We knew the factory would go at some point, but it’s one thing to expect it and another to see it happen.» Tears well up but she fights them back. «This job is hard on your back, but you can’t do anything about it, you compromise. I loved this job. At the beginning, they put you through a training program. On the first day, I felt like I was in prison. I left that evening crying and saying, ‘What am I doing here?’ But I had to work. Then I really got to love it. The quality of the clothes we put out was first-rate. The vests, the 602s, as we call them here, were the best – no comparison with the others. We made the garments very carefully and they [the factory] said they had no complaints. The factory ran on two shifts: 6 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 2-10 p.m. The afternoon shift is tiring, especially in summer. You can’t have a rest in the morning; you do your housework. You get to work feeling stressed. But if I’m on morning shift, I can take an hour’s nap in the afternoon.» Nioti has two daughters, and the conversation often goes back to them. «I worked even when the children were babies. But I’m one of the lucky ones, because I had my mother-in-law to look after them. «It’s difficult to raise two children. They used to ask, ‘Mum, are you going to work tomorrow?’ They didn’t want me to work.» She continues as if she were addressing her children, as if she’s feels guilty that they were deprived of their mother: «I work so I can give my children things. I know, we sometimes overdo the consumerism. But they are teenagers now. They can’t do without shoes or even a mobile phone. We used to get bonuses. When a garment comes, they calculate that you’ll make 60 of them an hour, for example. That’s the standard. If I made more, I made more money. The reverse also applied. If you didn’t make the standard number, the foreman would complain, and they might even dismiss you if you kept it up for a couple of months. In general, when they saw that production was standard, they reduced the time by half, and asked us to make even more pieces. So you suddenly found yourself just reaching the standard. I was fast. I earned about 100 euros extra and I used to give it to my children. «I was born on Crete and came to Athens at the age of 5. My father was a laborer and my mother a part-time cleaner, nothing special. But conditions were better. They were able to build their own house and the one I live in now. We didn’t have luxuries. Life is more expensive nowadays. Now the two of us are working and we can’t make ends meet. We live in a three-room apartment, here in Petralona, near the factory. «I finished junior high school. I got married at 19. My husband’s a builder, a hard job. In winter, he might go a week without working, when it’s raining. «My elder daughter studied accounting in Crete, in Iraklion. It will be hard now because we have a house there too. And the younger one needs to go to a coaching college, now that she’s in the second year of senior high. «We have to send her to summer classes in preparation for next year. Children don’t do any work at school; they learn everything at coaching college.» It’s hard to get Nioti to talk about her private life; she keeps talking about work, mixing up past and present. She talks about workers who have nowhere to leave their children when they’re on evening shift, as if the shift still exists and will continue to do so. Her spare time was spent caring for her children, and she feels slightly odd now that they’ve grown up. «We don’t go out much. My husband’s work is tiring and we rarely eat out. Now the children have grown up, they go out on their own. I used to take them swimming. When they were younger, I used to take them to see Olympiakos play basketball. We used to go to the Karaiskaki Stadium, when they had football games there.» Suddenly, no job «We had come back from the Easter holidays. The morning shift was working as normal. At 3.30 our union came to tell us that the company was closing. Three pieces of paper had been put on the notice board; they didn’t even come and tell us. It was better that the union told us; it would have been worse to read it in a notice. I cried when I heard about it. «Even though I’m not working, I feel more tired than when I was on the production line. I used to push myself to get it done; I wouldn’t even go to the toilet. Now we’re all at a loss; we don’t know what to do. Nobody’s looking for another job. And times are tough. There’s no way you can find work in summer.» The Schiesser Pallas closure is part of a general trend. Hundreds of firms in Greece are relocating to other Balkan countries in search of cheaper labor. In Bulgaria, where the Palco factory is going, wages are about one-tenth of Greek wages. More than half of the production of Greek garment manufacturers now takes place in other Balkan countries. Manufacturers have made use of a Greek development law which subsidizes transfers to the special border zone of Bulgaria and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. «From what they say, the firm will only keep its warehouse and sales outlet here. Six or seven years ago, there was a knitting unit which they shifted to Komotini with a state subsidy, and they told us we were in no danger. «The move to Bulgaria was subsidized by the European Union. Why? I don’t understand it. You can’t let other people drain you dry – there are women who started working here as girls and are leaving as worn-out grandmothers – and then go off and drain others dry. They’ll do the same to those women, that’s for sure.» Expenses mount up «I’m not typical of the women who were dismissed. Most of them are worse off – single women, widows with young children, single women without children, supporting themselves, or separated and with children. And expenses mount up, the bills still come in every month. Some women are close to retirement. How will they find jobs now? «I’ll get by. I know a lot of people support us, especially in the neigborhood. Besides, most of us live round here: Petralona, Tavros, Thiseion, Votanikos. But what can the locals do? They’re workers themselves. «They sent us money, but what are we supposed to do with it? We want work; we’re not beggars. They don’t understand that. «At the TV station, I saw the coldness of the TV presenter who was supposed to be showing our case. He was looking for misery that would sell. He didn’t even bother to wish us good morning. «I realize that they are stealing from the despair and pain of others, not only ours. They don’t give a damn about us, probably because we’re not educated.» Nioti enjoyed having her photograph taken. «It’s hard to have your photograph taken for an hour. Now I know why models get paid so well,» she says, smiling. Her smile lingers when she thinks about the future: «What I want from life is for my children to grow up, study, find a job and live their own lives. And have relationships, and go on holidays to the islands or anywhere else they like. Not to be in a hurry to get married. As soon as they get good jobs, I’ll have fewer obligations. Maybe I’ll travel then, to Brazil, which I’ve seen on TV and it’s a beautiful country. The dreams we’ve had we’ve seen crushed, but we still have them.»

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