Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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George Nicoll Barnes

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George Nicoll Barnes (c1859-1940) secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers.

1919 Chair of the Industrial League. [1]

1940 Obituary [2]

This country has lost a prominent industrial personality by the death of the Right Hon. George Nicoll Barnes which occurred on Sunday, April 21st, at the age of 81.

He began his career as a working engineer and in his early years passed through many hard times.

In 1896 he became secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, and in 1906 entered Parliament as a member for the Blackfriars division of Glasgow. When the second Coalition Government was formed by Mr. Lloyd George during the Great War, Mr. Barnes was given control of the new Ministry of Pensions and later became a member of the War Cabinet, an office which he held until after the conclusion of peace. He remained a member of the Government until the Treaty of Versailles and the establishment of the International Labour Organisation.

He was largely concerned towards the end of 1918 in the preparation of the basis upon which the International Labour Office was developed. His scheme was later elaborated and the Commission for World Labour set up by the Peace Conference took the British draft as the bas is for its discussion. This work was a great contribution to the settlement of world affairs at the time, as it was owing to Mr. Barnes' foresight that the Commission had a detailed plan ready for consideration.

In 1920 he was one of the three British delegates at the first assembly meeting of the League of Nations at Geneva.

Mr. Barnes was highly respected by engineering employe1r's even when he was in conflict with them. He was quite free from animosity and never showed that class bias which in his time was sometimes encountered amongst trades union leaders. Always anxious to do the best he could for the great union which he directed he was never blind to the employers' and to the economic sides of the case, listened patiently to arguments, and sought for logical conclusions. He retired from the trade union world so long ago that only the older employers will recall the services he performed for the engineering industry as a whole. They had their tussles with him, but one and all of them will admit that from first to last he was a clean fighter. It must not be forgotten, too, that no trades union secretary more earnestly sought to maintain and raise the standard of craftsmanship of the members.

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