Pulp Fiction (1993) was produced with members of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP). We worked for over a year collecting stories from workers in pulp and paper mills in North Eastern Ontario and researching the forest industry. It tells a story about jobs and the environment in one of the mills.
Pulp Fiction is divided into two sections. The first section tells the story of what happened when local fishermen brought an injunction against a mill in Espanola in 1947 to stop it from polluting the Spanish River. Mill management and the union lobbied the provincial government of Leslie Frost to overturn the injunction. Frost passed the KVP Act, named after the Kalamazoo Vegetable Parchment Co. (KVP) who owned the mill. It stated that anyone suing a pulp and paper mill had to prove that their economic loss was greater than the economic benefit of the mill in question. Not only did Frost exempt pulp and paper mills from environmental liability but upon retirement joined the board of directors of the KVP mill.
The second section looks at the issue of jobs and the environment today. The story line is loosely based on testimony given at an Environmental Assessment Review hearing in 1993 by workers at the mill (now owned by E.B. Eddy). It tells the story of a worker who documented neglected pesticide barrels at various forest sites and presented the evidence at the hearings. Many workers had believed that environmental problems were the price of doing business. It was their children that began to make them aware that it was going to cost them a lot more.
Contrary to many media reports, workers are now acutely aware of the state of the environment and recognize the consequences of current forest practices. What workers resent is not the expression of environmental concerns, as such, but that the conditions of their work and lives are determined from outside. In Ontario, the South dictates to the North, whether it’s government agents, corporate executives or environmentalists. Quite rightly, forest workers argue that they, together with others in the northern community, particularly aboriginal peoples, are the best positioned to determine the use and preservation of the rivers and forests they live and work in.
Pulp Fiction has been used by the CEP union locals in the North to talk to school children about the union and issues of the environment.