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Bevin, Ernest (1881–1951)

Subject History

Place Europe » United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631209379.1999.x


British Foreign Secretary (1945–51) and trade union leader. Illegitimate, Bevin lived in poverty with his mother until she died in 1889, and then lived with a half-sister. He left school at 11 and had several poorly paid jobs before he became involved with the trade union movement. Known as ‘the dockers’ KC for arguing their case before wage tribunals, in 1922 he planned the amalgamation of 18 unions into the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), which continued to absorb smaller unions until it was the largest in the country. As its General Secretary Bevin was the most powerful trade union leader in Britain. In 1921 he had called for a General Council of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and with Walter Citrine dominated that body in the 1920s and 1930s. He was a national leader of the General Strike (1926) and a member of the General Council which ended it. A strong supporter of the League of Nations and collective security, Bevin was opposed to Fascism but refused to collaborate with the Communist Party in a United Front against it. From the mid-1930s Bevin had heart trouble and was considering retirement when Winston churchill invited him to join his coalition government in 1940. He therefore became an MP at the age of 59 and served as Minister of Labour from 1940–5, greatly expanding the labour force and persuading the trade unions to accept ‘dilution’, the use of unskilled ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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