ERNEST BEVIN, Politician
Ernest Bevin was born at Winsford,near Dulverton on Exmoor, Somersetshire, on 7 March 1881. His mother, Diana, was married to William Bevin, an agricultural worker who, by 1877, had deserted his family. Therefore Ernest Bevin’s father is not known. He was one of 7 children.
After his mother’s death he lived with his sister and her husband. Bevin left school in 1892 and worked on farms until 1894 when he moved to Bristol to join his brothers, Jack and Albert.
In Bristol he worked mainly as a conductor on trams and as a van driver until becoming a paid official of the Dockers Union in 1911. While in Bristol he attended chapel, becoming a Sunday School teacher and Baptist preacher.
By May 1920 he was Assistant General Secretary of the Dockers Union and as his trade union role was centred on London he moved there with his wife, Florence Anne Townley.
Bevin played the major role in creating the Transport and General Workers Union from the merger of 14 unions with his own Dockers Union as it’s core. The new union came into being on 1 January 1922, with 300,000 members. Bevin was elected General Secretary and by the late 1930s he was leading the largest union in the country, with 650,000 members.
He took a determined stand against communist challenges to trade union leadership and was suspicious of the egotism of intellectual socialists.
In May 1940 Bevin was top of the list of Labour figures who Churchill wanted in his War Cabinet and he agreed to become Minister of Labour and National Service in Churchill’s coalition government. He became an MP for the first time in June 1940 being elected unopposed for Central Wandsworth. Bevin was a staunch supporter of the war effort and believed “it is a social obligation to defend your own homestead”.
He so successfully mobilized and directed labour into essential war industries that Britain achieved a higher level of civilian mobilization than any other of the nations at war. Bevin oversaw a great extension of collective bargaining, wage regulation, trade union membership and general transformation of working conditions.
Possibly second only to Churchill in the wartime government, Churchill himself looked upon Bevin as a possible successor should anything happen to himself.
After the war Bevin became Foreign Secretary in the Labour government and formed a close association with Prime Minister Attlee which contemporaries said was one of the most successful political partnerships in English history. He had a deep distrust of communism and the Soviet Union, was firmly committed to the British nuclear deterrent, and played a key role in the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
Failing health caused him to be replaced as Foreign Secretary in March 1951 and he died at his home in Westminster on 14 April 1951.