NSW firefighters disaffiliate from Labor
Last month, at a series of mass meetings, full-time firefighters employed by the NSW Government voted overwhelmingly to disaffiliate from the Australian Labor Party. The Fire Brigade Employees Union (FBEU) has a membership of 6000. The disaffiliation is targeted at the State Premier and will remain effective "for as long as Bob Carr remains Premier in NSW". The disaffiliation ends a history of political and financial support for the ALP dating back almost 80 years. It is a highly significant step in the increasingly strained relationships between right-wing Labor governments and the union movement. The FBEU has fought for two years with the NSW Government for a return to their previous workers' compensation entitlements, which were the same in principle, if not in scale, as those still enjoyed by NSW parliamentarians. The firefighters' entitlements were changed by the Carr Government so that new employees were forced to join a new and very inferior scheme. The firefighters were further enraged when, in the midst of the dispute, the Carr Government attempted to cut off the automatic deduction of union dues from their pay packets. They were eventually prompted to disaffiliate by the passing of the Carr Government's Workers' Compensation legislation and when some State ALP parliamentarians crossed a line of workers picketing NSW Parliament House over the workers' compensation issue. FBEU State Secretary Chris Read later commented bitterly: "A Labor government doesn't cut workers compensation, and a Labor Premier certainly doesn't shove his fingers in the face of workers like he did on the steps of Parliament this week. "His obvious preference for the big end of town over the welfare of injured workers, union members or not, means that this so-called 'Labor' Premier has to go." He added: "We've been fighting for almost two years now for a fair go for firefighters killed or injured on the job, but this week was the final straw. While we might not be the first union to walk away from the ALP this week, we also hope we won't be the last."