Frederick George Young was born in the East End of London, England, on 9 June 1888, the son of Emily Judge and her husband, William Young, a police constable. Fred arrived in New Zealand around 1905 and found work as a bellboy in an Auckland hotel. By 1911 he was a porter at a Rotorua boarding house and was active in the local branch of the Auckland Hotel and Restaurant Employees' Union. He then returned to Auckland and worked as a barman at the Waverley Hotel. He was elected president of the union in June 1914, but resigned in March 1915 to join the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. On 26 July, at Auckland, he married Emily Main; their only child was born after Fred embarked for Europe. A lance corporal in 1st Battalion, Auckland Infantry Regiment, Young was wounded at Messines (Mesen), Belgium, in June 1917, and later served as a cook and quartermaster.
Returning to New Zealand in May 1920, Young managed the Returned Soldiers' Club in Auckland until about 1925, then ran the Hikurangi Hotel in Northland. By 1928 he was proprietor of Auckland's Imperial Hotel. He now resumed an active role in union affairs: he was elected secretary of the Auckland Hotel and Restaurant Employees' Union in 1929, and general secretary of the New Zealand Federated Hotel and Restaurant Employees' Association in 1932; he was to hold both positions until his death. An able organiser and an effective advocate in the Court of Arbitration, he led the union skilfully during the difficult years of the depression.
Six feet tall, broad-shouldered, with dark hair and a swarthy complexion, Fred Young emerged as a powerful figure in Auckland's labour movement in the early 1930s. He was ambitious and unscrupulous, excelling at cajolery and intimidation, and was notorious for crude and violent outbursts. A staunch defender of the liquor trade, Young despised those he considered 'Bible-banging' wowsers, 'sanctimonious humbugs, reform cranks, and hesitant politicians', and formed a close relationship with brewing magnate Ernest Davis. In 1931 the two men helped John A. Lee secure the New Zealand Labour Party's nomination for the Grey Lynn seat. Young organised taxis, paid for by Davis, to take Lee's supporters to the selection poll, and helped to spread malicious rumours about his opponent, Fred Bartram.
By January 1935 Young had become an executive member of the Auckland Labour Representation Committee (LRC). Through his leadership of a coalition of union delegates, he was able to exert considerable influence on the LRC's policy and selection of candidates. Many Labour MPs, however, were uncomfortable with Young's methods and suspicious of his association with Davis. Lee soon became an enemy, and Young also fought with party leader Michael Joseph Savage over the establishment of youth branches, which Young opposed.
These tensions led to a bitter confrontation in early 1935. When Manukau MP Bill Jordan defied the LRC and stood as an independent in an Auckland Electric Power Board by-election, Young demanded that he be expelled from the Labour Party. The national executive demurred; Young called them 'slimy' and clashed angrily with Savage. The rift widened in March when the LRC surprisingly selected Joe Sayegh, a Syrian restaurateur, over prominent lawyer H. G. R. Mason as Labour candidate for Auckland's mayoralty. Although Sayegh was a respected city councillor, he was given little chance against the conservative candidate, Ernest Davis. Lee and other MPs alleged that Young had been bribed by Davis to ensure the selection of a weak Labour candidate. At the party's stormy annual conference in April, Young, according to one account, responded by denouncing Labour's leaders as 'a lot of swivel-titted, brothel-bred bastards'; he was censured and narrowly avoided expulsion from the party.
Despite the turmoil in Auckland, Labour won the general election in November 1935. After the introduction of compulsory unionism, the hotel workers' unions expanded rapidly, organising domestic staff in public hospitals, chartered clubs and government tourist resorts; national membership soared from 6,000 in 1935 to nearly 13,000 by December 1937.
A strong supporter of Wellington seamen's union leader Fintan Patrick Walsh, Young became secretary of the Auckland District Council of the New Zealand Alliance of Labour in 1935, and sided with Walsh against Jim Roberts when the Alliance split the following year. When the New Zealand Federation of Labour (FOL) was established in 1937, he was elected president of the new Auckland Trades Council, a position he held until 1942. Together with Walsh, Roberts and other leading unionists, Young played a prominent role in John A. Lee's expulsion from the Labour Party in 1940. Under the newly introduced system of card voting, the hotel workers' federation provided 40 votes against Lee.
In September 1941 Young was appointed to the Legislative Council, possibly as a reward for his role in Lee's expulsion; he served without particular distinction until its abolition in 1950. He was also a member of the wartime Industrial Emergency Council. He continued to be outspoken, however: in 1941 he attacked Auckland Hospital Board chairman A. J. Moody over the dismissal of two nurse attendants; in 1944 and 1947 he published pamphlets criticising the government's wage stabilisation policy; and in 1946, as a member of the Royal Commission on Licensing, he produced a controversial minority report which defended liquor industry interests and condemned the proposed system of state control as 'totalitarian'.
In the late 1940s Young and other conservative unionists defeated a determined communist challenge to their control in Auckland. Mounting tensions in the labour movement came to a head in April 1950 when more than 60 delegates, led by the militant waterside workers, walked out of the FOL's conference and formed the New Zealand Trade Union Congress (TUC). To general astonishment, Fred Young, a violent anti-communist and previously one of Walsh's closest allies, accepted the provisional chairmanship of the new organisation. Although he claimed that he wanted to mediate between the rival factions, Young may have sensed an opportunity to usurp Walsh's leadership of the labour movement. He failed: the hotel workers decided to remain in the FOL and he was forced to resign as chairman of the TUC in June. After reconciling himself with Walsh, Young attempted to act as a mediator during the 1951 waterfront dispute.
Like Walsh and some other unionists, Young was a vocal critic of Walter Nash's Labour government (1957–60). In January 1958 he wrote an angry letter to the prime minister condemning the imposition of import controls on spirits as 'a drastic and unwarranted attack on the wage worker'. He signed the letter 'Yours disgustedly'. When it was leaked to the press, Young was censured by his union's executive and forced to apologise. He resigned from the Auckland LRC, and again narrowly escaped expulsion from the Labour Party.
Nevertheless, in June Young attacked Labour's 'black budget', which doubled taxation on alcohol and tobacco, and in July he joined with hoteliers to oppose a government price order on beer. Resentment lingered, and in 1960 the hotel workers' federation suspended its ties with the Labour Party. Young now faced mounting opposition within his union, and in August 1961 the Auckland executive attempted to remove him. However, a stormy meeting of 800 members voted overwhelmingly to retain him as secretary.
Young had been appointed a director of the Tourist Hotel Corporation of New Zealand in November 1959. He was attending a board meeting in Wellington when he died on 14 February 1962. He had separated from Emily, and was survived by his de facto wife, Ivy Maud Young, and his son Cecil, a publican. An abrasive, ruthless and possibly corrupt union boss, big Fred Young was a formidable force in Auckland's labour movement for three decades.