John (Jack) Philip Lewin, born 1915, served as PSA president from 1946 to 1951. He combined a successful public service career with his trade union activity and as Government Statistician in the 1970s became known as “New Zealand’s most controversial public servant”.
In the early 1940s Lewin was at the centre of a group of young PSA activists, known as the Korero, who increasingly challenged the leadership’s deferential attitude to the government and the public service commissioner. He was elected to the executive in 1942 and became vice president in 1945. In 1946 Lewin was elected president of the PSA.
The late Colin Hicks, PSA president in the 1980s, wrote of Lewin: “Although ‘aggressive [and] self-confident almost to the point of arrogance, he had a supreme ability to organise people in support of his ideas. Under Lewin’s stewardship the PSA was transformed into a powerful instrument for social change. He was a strong supporter of equal pay for women and women’s rights in general, and an effective advocate for public servants aggrieved with their position within the service.”
Lewin earned public notoriety in 1948 when a satchel belonging to Cecil Holmes, a PSA activist at the New Zealand National Film Unit, was stolen from Holmes’s car at Parliament buildings. The satchel contained Holmes’s Communist Party membership card and correspondence with Lewin about a stop-work meeting at the film unit’s studios. Lewin was reprimanded by the Public Service Commission for his role in the affair.
Lewin served as government statistician from 1969 to 1973. As chairman of the Pay Research Council, he oversaw the introduction of a more reliable method of comparing public-service pay rates with those in the private sector. He also fought effectively to speed the introduction of computerisation to the Department of Statistics. From 1973 until his retirement in 1974 he headed the Department of Trade and Industry.
He died at Wellington on 4 May 1990. The PSA Journal observed :
“Without Jack Lewin, the PSA might still be a gentlemen’s club instead of the real trade union it is today.”