05 February, 2009
Emmanuel Shinwell, Baron Shinwell was born in Spitalfields, London, but moved with his Polish-Jewish family to Glasgow, Scotland. He was a trade union official and Labour politician and was one of the leading figures of Red Clydeside.
Shinwell's father had a small clothing shop and his mother was a cook. He educated himself in a public library and at the Kelvin Grove art gallery. He enjoyed sport, particularly boxing and he was the trainer of a local football team. He began his working life as a machinist in a clothing workshop. In 1903 he became active in the Amalgamated Union of Clothing Operatives, and joined the Glasgow Trades Council in 1906 as a delegate of that union.
In May 1911, he was seconded to help organise the seamen of Glasgow at the request of J. Havelock Wilson of the National Sailors' and Firemen's Union (NSFU). He played a prominent role in the six-week Glasgow seamen's strike which began on 14 June and which was part of a nation-wide strike movement. He subsequently became the secretary of the Glasgow branch of the NSFU. In August 1912, he participated in a revolt against the union, which resulted in the Glasgow branch becoming part of the Southampton-based British Seafarers' Union (BSU). He was the local secretary of the BSU until it became part of the Amalgamated Marine Workers' Union (AMWU) in 1922, after which he served as National Organiser of the new organisation.
In 1919, he gained national notoriety through his involvement in the Glasgow 40 Hours' Movement. This movement culminated in clashes between police and protesters in Glasgow's George Square. He was afterwards tried for incitement to riot and was sentenced to five months' imprisonment.
An Independent Labour Party (ILP) member, he was elected as Member of Parliament for Linlithgowshire at the 1922 general election. He lost his seat in 1924, but was re-elected for Linlithgowshire at a by-election in 1928. In 1929 Ramsay MacDonald appointed him Financial Secretary to the War Office: Cowling says that MacDonald believed he had rescued Shinwell's ministerial career when no minister would take him. From 1930 Shinwell served as Secretary for Mines, an office he had previously held in 1924. He became a critic of Ramsay MacDonald's National Government, and in 1931 he again lost his seat. He returned to the Commons in 1935 for Seaham, County Durham, (after defeating MacDonald) whereafter he campaigned vigorously, along with left-wingers such as Aneurin Bevan for the United Kingdom to support the Popular Front government in Spain against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. In May 1940 he refused a position in Winston Churchill's Coalition Government in the Ministry of Food. He became chairman of the Labour Party in 1942.
He served in Clement Attlee's government after the Labour victory in 1945. As Minister of Fuel and Power, he presided over the nationalisation of the mining industry. His decision to mine the grounds of Wentworth Woodhouse, home of the former mine owners, the Earls Fitzwilliam, was severely criticised, including by the miners themselves (who went on strike in an attempt to prevent it), and was perceived as an act of revenge. In 1947, Britain experienced a severe coal shortage. He was widely criticised for his failure to avert this crisis. Shortly afterwards he took up the position of Secretary of State for War which he held until 1950. His seat became Easington in 1950, at which point he became Minister of Defence. Towards the end of his Commons career, he served as Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party 1964-67.
Shinwell was made Baron Shinwell, of Easington in the County of Durham in 1970 and died in 1986,