Kenneth George Douglas

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Kenneth George Douglas ONZ (15 November 1935 – 14 September 2022) was a New Zealand trade union leader.  he was known as Ken

Douglas was borDouglas was born in Wellington in 1935. His parents were Marjorie "Maj" Alice (née Farrow) and John Atholwood "Atty" Douglas. He was baptised a Catholic, and his family also included a younger sister, Terree. When Douglas was six, Maj left the family and he and Terree went to be raised by Atty's parents. He received his education at Cashmere Primary School, Northland School, and Wellington College. His early jobs included a woolclasser and wharf worker, before becoming a truck driver.

He married Lesley Winter in 1956, and they went on to have four children. Their marriage was dissolved in 1986.

After starting work as a truck driver, his father who was also a truck driver insisted Douglas attend a union meeting. In about a year, he was on the executive of the union.[4]

Douglas led the labour movement in New Zealand from 1979 to 1999, first as the Federation of Labour Secretary (1979–1987), then as the first president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (1987–1999).[5][6] He also played a prominent role in the global union movement with roles as president of both the Asia-Pacific Regional Organisation of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the International Centre for Trade Union Rights.

Douglas was leader of the Socialist Unity Party in the 1970s and 1980s. In this role he was attacked by Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, who saw Douglas as a malign influence in the union movement and often sought to discredit him as a Soviet puppet. He stood for parliament in the safe Labour seat of Porirua in the 1972 election, 1975 election and 1978 election, receiving 68, 46 and 70 votes respectively.

After retiring from the CTU, Douglas was active in local politics. He was elected a as a Porirua City councillor in 1998 and served six terms. He was also a Porirua Licensing Trustee (2001–2007) and elected member of the Capital and Coast District Health Board (2001–2010). Douglas served on boards of Air New Zealand, NZ Post, NZ Trade and Enterprise, New Zealand Rugby Union and Healthcare NZ.

In the 1999 New Year Honours, Douglas was appointed a Member of the Order of New Zealand (ONZ). He was awarded an honorary degree (LLD) by Victoria University of Wellington in 1999.

In 2006 a 74-minute documentary was shown on New Zealand's TV ONE about Douglas's life, entitled, "Ken Douglas, Traitor or Visionary?"

Douglas died in Wellington on 14 September 2022, aged 86 years. Acting Prime Minister Grant Robertson paid tribute to Douglas, saying that “he never wavered from his support of working people and commitment to their rights and successes.” Acting Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety Priyanca Radhakrishnan said many advancements in worker rights could be traced back to Douglas' leadership. A road in the suburb of Aotea is named after him in honour of his service to Porirua.


Sources for this article include:

  • Ken Douglas: Traitor or Visionary?; 2006 documentary

  • Any contributions will be gratefully accepted


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    Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024