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Ernest Bevin

(1881—1951) trade unionist and politician


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(1881–1951)

British trade unionist and politician.

Originally a farm worker in his native Somerset, he formed a branch of the Docker's Union in Bristol in 1910 and was one of the founders of the Transport and General Workers' Union, serving as its first general secretary (1921–40). A leading organizer of the General Strike in 1926, he later attacked the Labour prime minister Ramsay MacDonald for failing to do enough to alleviate social distress. In 1937, Bevin was elected chairman of the Trades Union Congress, and in 1940, after the outbreak of World War II, became an MP. As wartime minister of labour (1940–45), he was responsible for the highly successful mobilization of personnel to serve Britain's war industry. Bevin was foreign secretary (1945–51) in Clement Attlee's postwar government.

He worked for a Europe united against communism, negotiating the Brussels treaty between Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg and helping to form the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (both in 1948). He was instrumental in the implementation of the Marshall Plan for Europe's postwar recovery (see Marshall, George C.) and in the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (1949), but his association with the USA against the Soviet Union was bitterly resented by the left wing of the Labour Party. The 1951 Colombo Plan for economic cooperation among the Commonwealth countries of South and Southeast Asia was largely Bevin's work. In the Middle East he was unsuccessful in finding a solution acceptable to both Zionists and Arabs, and he surrendered the British mandate in Palestine to the United Nations. He managed to make himself unpopular with both sides in this dispute, as well as with intellectuals in the UK. Ill-health forced his resignation in 1951. He was appointed lord privy seal but died five weeks later.

Subjects: British History.


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