The idea that ordinary Canadians are overburdened in the eyes of government and corporations is certainly thought provoking yet it appears to aptly describe how vast numbers of people are recognized in today’s society.
A geologist or a miner knows “overburden” as the layer of soil and rock overlying a mineral deposit. It’s the material that must be removed in an open pit mining operation to get at coal, precious metals and bitumen from the tar sands operation. It’s waste material.
Naomi Klein, well-known author and journalist recently introduced the concept that citizens and organized groups are overburden in a speech delivered in Toronto on September 1, 2013.
Klein gained notoriety with her book The Shock Doctrine, an explanation of how corporate interests have systematically exploited various forms of mass crises such as wars, economic downturns, and natural disasters such as hurricane Katrina.
It is Klein’s belief that people who dare to question elected officials, bureaucrats and corporate heads are a layer in society that interferes with exploitation and profit taking.
Klein was addressing the delegates at the founding convention of UNIFOR, the union that was formed recently by merging the Canadian Auto Workers union with the Canadian Energy and Paper Workers Union. She said the idea came to her as she toured the tar sands operation in Alberta where the boreal forest and a lot of peat and soil must be removed to expose the bitumen that is being mined.
Klein elaborated on the concept of overburden with five points:
• Unions are overburden because they are barriers to bigger company profits and the exploitation of workers.
• Environmentalists are overburden because they question government actions and organize protests.
• Indigenous people are overburden because they insist on their lawful rights being respected.
• Scientists are overburden, because their research proves that most development projects have deleterious environmental impacts.
• Parliamentary sessions have become overburden for governing parties.
British Columbians may recall the comments made by federal Resources Minister Joe Oliver about First Nations people and environmental groups who were critical of the Northern Gateway pipeline. He called them radicals and accused them of taking the American approach of suing anyone and everyone to delay projects that were in the best interests of the country.
“Overburden” has another meaning and Klein did not neglect to remind the convention about it. “It also means, simply, to leave with too great a burden; to push something or someone beyond their limits.” Most people in our 21st century society are overburdened. Cities and towns are also overburdened.
“Our crumbling infrastructure is overburdened by new demands and old neglect. Out workers are overburdened by employers who treat their bodies like machines. Our streets and shelters are overburdened by those whose labour has been deemed disposable. The atmosphere is overburdened with the gases we are spewing into it.”
Has there been a response to overburdening in Canada? Yes. In Quebec, students said “No” to a tuition increase and toppled the government; four women started the Idle No More movement in Manitoba; and the planet is responding to an excess of carbon with severe weather events such as floods, droughts, and unusual windstorms.
Klein encouraged UNIFOR to keep three statements that appear in their new constitution in mind as they go forward.
“Our goal is transformative. To reassert common interest over private interest. Our goal is to change our workplaces and our world. Out vision is compelling. It is to fundamentally to change the economy, with equality and social justice, restore and strengthen our democracy and achieve an environmentally sustainable future.”
With a membership of over 300,000 UNIFOR may be able to bring about the change needed in the fundamental approach now being used by governments and corporations.
If not, our future doesn’t look promising.
Roy Ronaghan is a Christina Lake-based writer.