Ernest Bevin was a British politician and trade union leader and a British statesman. A member of the Labour Party, he was one of the founders of the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) and also held the post of the Union’s general secretary from 1922 to 1940. As foreign secretary in Clement Atlee’s government, he played a key role in shaping British foreign policy in the post World War II era. His childhood was an extremely distressing and unpleasant one as he was orphaned by the age of eight, and had to give up on education in order to fend for himself by working at various places that promised no hopes for the future. At the age of 11 he started working as a labourer and eventually joined the Dockers’ Union. Subsequently he became the secretary of the Dockers’ Union and entered politics through the Bristol Socialist Society. After several defeats in the general elections he finally became a part of the government under the Winston Churchill administration in 1940. He was given the post of Minister for Labour and National Service and he completed his tenure with success. After the Second World War he played an important role in allocating financial and military aids to the government while also creating a better platform from where the trade unions could gain more leverage while negotiating for their terms of agreement
Childhood & Early Life
Ernest Bevin was born on March 9, 1881 in Somerset, England. His mother’s name was Diana Bevin and there is no account of his father. After the passing away of his mother in 1889, he endured a poverty-stricken childhood.
He attended school only for a brief period and dropped out in 1892.
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In 1892 Ernest Bevin worked as a labourer and then as a mineral-water lorry driver in Bristol. He became involved with the Dockers’ Union and was introduced to politics by the Bristol Socialist Society.
From 1910 to 1921 he was the secretary of the Dockers’ Union and from 1914 also adorned the position of a national organizer. He played a very important role in the formation of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) in 1922.
He was soon elected as TGWU’s general secretary, which made him the one of the leading labour leaders in the country and their strong advocate within the Labour Party.
He contested as a Labour Party representative in the general elections of 1918 and 1931, from the constituencies of Bristol Central and Gateshead respectively and lost both times.
During the 1930s he advocated British rearmament and a strong foreign policy and opposed fascism. His accusatory speech targeted at George Lansbury in 1935 led to Lansbury’s resignation and the appointment of Clement Attlee as the Party’s leader.
The passing of the Emergency Powers (Defense) Act in 1939 gave him immense control over the labour forces and strengthened the bargaining position of trade unions for post-war negotiations.
In 1940, Winston Churchill formed a government with an all-party coalition during World War II and named Bevin as the Minister of Labuor and National Service. As Bevin wasn’t an MP, he was elected unopposed to the House of Commons as an MP from the Wandsworth Central constituency.
During the war he got nearly 48,000 military conscripts (Bevin Boys) to work in the coal industry and also arranged for better payment schemes and more hospitable living conditions for the working-class people.
In 1945, Clement Attlee of the Labour Party formed the government and Bevin was named as the Foreign Secretary.
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The World War II had left Britain on the verge of bankruptcy and Bevin arranged a low-interest $3.75 billion loan from US. In order to establish Europe as a single military alliance, he signed the Dunkirk Treaty and the Brussels Pact, which paved the way to the formation of NATO in 1949.
In 1946, Attlee and Bevin came under immense criticism for their idea of developing an atomic bomb. The ministers who would have opposed it on the basis of cost were excluded from the final meeting in 1947.
The State of Israel was created in 1948 after the Mandate of Palestine ended. Bevin didn’t handle the situation as well as everybody thought and the partition wasn’t peaceful with hundreds of thousands being displaced.
He negotiated the Portsmouth Treaty in 1948 with Iraq, under which British continued control of Iraqi foreign affairs and Iraq was tied to them for military supplies and training.
He resigned on March 9, 1951 and then became the Lord Privy Seal for a brief period in the same year.
Ernest Bevin is credited for co-founding the Transport and General Workers Union and then presiding as the founder General Secretary from 1922 to 1940.
As foreign secretary in Clement Atlee’s government, he played a key role in shaping British foreign policy in the post World War II era. He was instrumental in creation of NATO and in establishing Britain as a staunch ally of the USA in the Cold War era.
Personal Life & Legacy
Not much is known about Ernest Bevin’s personal life except the fact that he was married and had a daughter.
He died on April 14, 1951.
In 2006, some declassified intelligence files revealed that the Jewish terrorist groups plotted to assassinate Ernest Bevin in 1946