Prior to the Women in Fire Fighting 2006 Conference, a controversy emerged when the United Fire Fighting Union Australia (UFUA) opposed the free association of fire fighting women at WIFF2006. Union women employed as paid fire fighters in WA and Tasmania were ordered by their union not to attend WIFF2006 setting up a battle line between local unions (such as the NSW FBEU) who supported WIFF 2005 and 2006, and female fire fighters who were loyal members of UFUA but wanted to attend the conference. It was a scary time.
The following memos memorialize the conflict at the time.
Following (and in terms of timelines, after) this controversy, the UFU did take action. For example, it established (for the first time) a Women's Network, and took a number of other actions to advance industrial concerns facing female fire fighters. These actions were a good outcome from the perspective of WIFF 2005 and 2006 conferences, and the proposed Women in Fire Fighting Association - after all the point was to generate attention, foster change, and establish processes of celebration and acknowledgment.
Other UFUA information
The hostility that surrounded the proposed formation of a Women in Fire Fighting Association also was directed towards the research I produced at that time. It emerged again in subsequent years when I made comment about the situation concerning the poor recruitment of women into paid fire fighting in Australia. The following (name removed) is an example of an email sent to me during the UFUA controversy:
LETTER FROM FEMALE FIRE FIGHTER TO MERILYN CHILDS
From: SS [mailto:XXX@mfbb.vic.gov.au]Sent: Sun 2/07/2006 3:12 PMTo: Merilyn ChildsSubject: Inaccurate research.
Hello Ms Childs,
You state that the UFU of A was 'silent' on women's issues, and is only now addressing concerns.
The UFU has had several Female Branch Committee of Management reps, and also at least one female State Secretary!. Not bad for a supposedly 'female silent union'.A union in an industry where the facts show that women are in the minority, and yet they still were able to hold rather senior positions. (how many fire service managers or Board members were female, way back when the UFU had people such as myself on BCOM, and as Secretaries?)Hmmm.
I find a lot of what you have to say inaccurate, and frankly offensive to my profession, and my gender.
I have chosen fire fighting as my profession, like many other women, after looking into the pros and cons, and seeing if it would suit me, and vice versa. I don't presume to tell you how your professional world should operate, you obviously have no compunction however, dishing out your perspective on my professional world. A world you have not entered and have no real experience of.
As they say, 'driving a car does not make you a mechanic'.
In other words I think we are doing fine, and I for one really don't feel I need your academic assistance, thanks anyway. It seems a little too close to the non-fire fighting managers who are trying to erode my work conditions, -you know, the ones our union and our 'culture' had to fight to get. The ones that make the job worth doing!
I find your commentary ill-informed, and stereo-typical of someone who has not done the job, or experienced its unique work environment, but thinks they know what is good for those of us who do.
I have served as both a shop steward, and BCOM rep, but have never been approached by you for my opinion. I'd like to bet that you have not in the past approached any of our state branches to get accurate info on female profile in issues or representation. Had you done this first, your research would have been closer to fact than 'long suffering woman fiction'.
Clearly as with your involvement in the conferences, the UFU,- and any non-management input for that matter- was obviously a poor after thought.
So please, in the interests of fairness and accuracy,ammend (sic) your version of history to correctly reflect the true nature of the UFU's involvement with women in fire fighting, and the fact that women fire-fighters have held senior posts with the union .
I look forward to seeing an apology and correction at your earliest convenience.
PS, women in the army aren't allowed to be 'riflemen' in the infantry, how terribly unjust and discriminatory!! Why don't you go help them? I am sure women in the armed forces would just love your input!
LETTER FROM MERILYN CHILDS TO LEIGH HUBBARD (NO REPLY RECEIVED)
From: Merilyn ChildsSent: Thu 15/06/2006 11:46 AMTo: email@example.comSubject: Opinion piece- UFUA- now available.
Good morning Leigh,
[Leigh Hubbard, National Executive Officer, United Firefighters Union of Australia]
I am aware that you have indicated to members of the UFUA that they might read my report posted at [website now defunct].
I want to point out to you that there is now an opinion piece posted at [website now defunct].A copy of a Victorian UFUA memo will be posted on this site by tomorrow.
As a committed unionist, I am regretful that this opinion piece needed to be written. But I am also a historian, and as such I am bound to place this information on the public record, and cannot argue with the facts about what took place. As a social researcher and activist I am bound to interpret those facts, and I have done so. A union, like any organisation, makes choices- sometimes those choices are ethical, sometimes they are not. That some female fire fighters were forced to withdraw from a conference, and others chose not to attend, needs to be written into history as part of their ongoing story. It also forms part of my story as a researcher in this field. Hopefully by so doing, I will trigger further debate and further research - not only about the role of unions but about the rights that exist in relationship to this issue in terms of freedom of association and freedom of speech.
Should the UFUA wish to respond to my piece in writing, I am more than willing to post your reply on my opinions page. Public debate is helpful and healthy, and should be encouraged.
Please be aware that I will be posting this email on my web site.
LETTER FROM XXX PRAISING RESEARCH
From: xxxx [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Tue 4/07/2006 12:25 PM
To: Merilyn Childs
Subject: FW: Firegirls website
Firstly let me congratulate you on a wonderful web site, the web survey report makes for some interesting and thought provoking ideas.
I wholeheartedly applaud your work to date with regards to the history of women in firefighting and can see that your commitment and passion will make sure this history is never lost.
I am disappointed at the seeming lack of understanding from some people as to the intent of your research. Research should inspire and challenge people to think in a global sense about what is right for all women in firefighting, otherwise the research is not worth doing.
As one of the founding members of New Zealand Fire Service Women, and with 18 years service, I feel well qualified to say that this is one of the few web sites putting the spotlight on women in firefighting in the world.
Please keep the updates coming, as it is interesting to see healthy, robust debate over an issue which for so many years has been silent.
Please feel free to publish this letter on your web site.
New Zealand Fire Service Women