The 1951 waterfront lockout was the biggest industrial dispute in NZ’s history. 22,000 workers – watersiders, seamen, freezing workers, drivers and some others – took part.
The PSA was not involved in the dispute. However there was a fierce internal debate over the PSA executive’s criticism of the government’s emergency regulations. The regulations were a direct and frightening attack on civil liberties. It was an offence to be a party to the dispute or to support the watersiders. It was an offence to print anything supporting them. It was an offence to help them. In March 1951 the executive wrote to the government protesting against the regulations. This was in line with the PSA’s consistent support for civil liberties, but it badly split the membership with several motions of no confidence in PSA president Jack Lewin.
In April Lewin announced that he would not stand for re-election. The campaign shook the PSA but it failed to deflect it from its progressive course. The PSA annual conference in August elected John Tuohy as president and Mike Mitchell and Terry Hurley as vice-presidents. Tuohy was not closely aligned with Lewin but the new vice-presidents were.
Bert Roth, Remedy for Present Evils: A history of the New Zealand Public Service Association from 1890, New Zealand Public Service Association, 1987