Ernest Bevin

The namesake of Bevin Court was a 20th century political giant. Many books have been written on him but we wanted to find out why Bevin is so important to people today.  So we visited Unite, the Union, with our film making team to interview Andrew Murray, Chief of Staff to Unite. Bevin was one of the founding members of this Union so we knew they’d be able to help. Andrew did such a great job contextualising Ernie that we asked him if he’d write a small blog for our website. So here it is:

Andrew Murray and Bevin

Andrew Murray and the bust of Bevin at Unite the Union offices

“Ernie Bevin was one of the most eminent trade union leaders of the 20th century.  Born into a very poor family in 1881, he had only elementary schooling.  He started work in Bristol at the age of 13, pushing barrows full of pies around the docks, which were then a major employer in that city.  He became an official of the Dock Workers Union in Bristol before the First World War.

At that time there were several different trade unions for dockers and transport workers.  Bevin worked to bring them all together into one bigger union, able to negotiate with employers at a time of great poverty and exploitation from a position of strength.  That new union was the Transport and General Workers’ Union.  It united dockers, bus drivers, lorry drivers, workers in food and other industries in one union.  By the time of the Second World War, under Bevin’s leadership it became the biggest trade union in the country, also including car workers and employees in other new industries.  Bevin was known as the “dockers QC” for his advocacy of their case for better living standards.  He became the best-known trade union figure in Britain.

Bevin became the T&G’s first General Secretary.  He held the post from 1922 to 1945.  He took leave to serve as Minister of Labour in the coalition government during the Second World War.  In that role he helped mobilise the country’s manpower to win the war against the Nazis.  After Churchill he was arguably the key member of government, since keeping industry working efficiently and at full capacity, at a time when very many workers were in the armed forces, was key to victory.

In 1945 Britain elected the first-ever majority Labour government by a landslide.  Bevin was named Foreign Secretary in the new government, the first working-class person to serve in that prestigious post.  He was part of the government which introduced the National Health Service and other important reforms.  He finally died in 1951, but is remembered as one of the most towering figures of 20th century British history, above all as a representative of the advance of working-class people to positions of influence in our democracy.”

A big thanks to Andrew Murray for putting together this blog. Watch this space for more interesting articles on Ernest Bevin.


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