Between the 1920s and 1950s, Bevin was a central figure in the British labour movement and in British foreign policy, serving as foreign secretary in the late 1940s.
Bevin was born on 9 March 1881 in Somerset. He received little formal education and was orphaned at the age of eight. He began work at 11 in the Bristol docks but soon exhibited an extraordinary gift for organisation. He became involved in the Dockers' Union and was instrumental in the creation of the Transport and General Workers Union, of which he became general secretary in 1922. This was a monumental achievement, given that it required bringing together, and holding together, men and women from an enormous range of different jobs into a single, integrated union structure.
In the inter-war years, Bevin was, despite being outside parliament, a leading figure in the development of Labour Party strategy and ideology and was responsible for ensuring that the claims of organised labour were made central to the ethos and policies of the Labour Party of the time. His powerful speech at the 1935 party conference was responsible for George Lansbury's replacement by Clement Attlee as party leader. In 1940 Bevin was appointed minister of labour by Winston Churchill in the wartime coalition government, and he shortly afterwards became member of parliament for Central Wandsworth. This appointment proved to be one of Churchill's most imaginative and effective actions as premier. Bevin succeeded in transforming Britain into a total war economy, in which all human and material resources were focused on the war effort.
In 1945, Bevin became foreign secretary in Clement Attlee's Labour government. In the fluid and unstable political environment of the immediate post-war years, he carved out a clear and unambiguous role for Britain as a staunch ally of the USA in the Cold War against the USSR. He also helped to shape vague pronouncements from the US State Department into what became the Marshall Plan - a crucial plank in the restructuring of post-war Europe - and became the central figure in the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in 1949.
His policies revealed some critical flaws, notably a failure to understand Britain's diminished power in the world after 1945, which was revealed in the decision to develop Britain's own nuclear weapons programme. But Bevin was rightfully lauded as one of the most important of the creators of the post-war world when he died on 14 April 1951.
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