Skinner was President of the Federation of Labour (the umbrella organisation of New Zealand Trade Unions) in a period when the inalienable rightness of unionism went largely unchallenged and strikes were a habit rather than an exception. Skinner build a firm political base within the Union movement when he emerged from the 1951 waterfront dispute as a leader who could rebuild a credible union presence.
In his own way both conservative and a constraint on his own more radical members, Skinner held the F.O.L. organisation in his firm grasp from 1963 when he first became its President until 1979. At the time the ‘red threat’ and the fear of communist domination could still arouse concern so Skinner’s leadership was seen as reasonable and moderate alongside his more radical colleagues who were challenging the old order of compulsory industrial managed based on conciliation and arbitration. Although compulsory unionism diluted the more radical leftish views, the Federation under Skinner’s leadership was forced to defend disruptive and petty workplace practices that ultimately undermined public support for universal unionism.
Skinner presented as a moderate and reasonable compromising force who worked surprisingly well with the predominantly conservative Governments with whom he was often negotiating to resolve industrial disputes. Ironically it was much later under a Labour Party administration that a role for central Government in dispute resolution was eventually rejected. F.O.L. Influence in wage setting and price fixing increasingly diminished after the 1984 defeat of the National (conservative) Government led by Muldoon and the influence of organised unionism in New Zealand faded until a later National Government finally abolished compulsory unionism.
Sir Thomas (Tom) Skinner
Died 11 Nov 1991
aged 82 years
Block Y Row 6 Plot 21