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Jim Griffiths
Rt. Hon. James "Jim" Griffiths (18901975) was a Welsh Labour politician, trade union leader and the first ever Secretary of State for Wales

He was born on 19 September 1890, in the strongly Welsh-speaking village of Betws, near Ammanford in Carmarthenshire. The youngest of ten children his father was the local blacksmith. His brother (David Rees Griffiths, 18821953) was a notable Welsh poet who took the bardic name of 'Amanwy' after his native valley.

Educated at Betws Board School, he left at the age of 13 to work at Ammanford No. 1 colliery (Gwaith Isa'r Betws), where he eventually became Lodge Secretary. Griifiths was a pacifist and while campaigning against the Great War met Winifred Rutley, who he married in 1918.

He continued his education by attending night school and became an active socialist. He helped establish a branch of the Independent Labour Party in Ammanford in 1908 and soon became its secretary. He went on to occupy the powerful post of secretary of the newly formed Ammanford Trades Council between 19161919.

At age 29, he left the colliery on a miners scholarship to the Central Labour College, London, On returning home he worked as Llanelli Labour Party agent, between 19221925, before becoming an agent for the Anthracite Miners' Association, 19251936, and President of the powerful Miners' Federation of South Wales The Fed in the Anthracite district of West Wales between 19341936.

In 1936, he was elected Labour MP for the safe seat of Llanelli. Three year's later he continued his rise through the Labour movement by getting elected Labour's National Executive Committee in 1939.

Following Labour's General Election victory in 1945 he was made a Privy Counsellor and Minister for National Insurance by Prime Minister Clement Attlee. In this role he was responsible for creating the modern state benefit system. He introduced Family Allowances, a new Industrial Injuries Act, and the National Insurance Act 1948. Along with Aneurin Bevan he was one of the chief architects of the Welfare State

He became Chairman of the Labour Party between 19481949, and in 1950 he became Secretary of State for the Colonies. Within two years however the Labour Party was out of office. During the long period in opposition he was deputy leader of the Labour Party, 19551959, and spokesman on Welsh affairs. He used his relationship with Hugh Gaitskell to commit the Labour Party to a measure of devolution. During the Suez Crisis of 1956, he made an important speech opposing the underhanded tactics of the then Prime Minister Anthony Eden in which he stated "This is for our country a black and tragic week... an unjustifiable and wicked war". This was said to sum up the mood of many at the time.

Having campaigned for a Secretary of State for Wales since the 1930s, Harold Wilson persuaded him to delay retirement and serve as the first Secretary of State for Wales following Labour's 1964 General Election victory. He established the Welsh Office and laid the foundations for the role until the 1966 General Election when he returned to the backbenches. He was appointed a Companion of Honour.

Though by now suffering from ill-health he avoided standing down because he feared Labour would lose a by-election in Llanelli. Plaid Cymru had captured the neighbouring seat of Carmarthen in 1966 and the popular Llanelli Rugby coach Carwyn James was poised to stand for the Party in a by-election had the ageing Griffiths stood down.

He remained in Parliament until 1970 and was succeeded by Denzil Davies. He published his autobiography, Pages From Memory (London: Dent, 1969), the same year.

He died in Teddington, Richmond upon Thames, London, on 7 August 1975, aged 84, leaving two sons and two daughters. He is buried at the Christian Temple chapel in Ammanford.

In a memorial address Jim Callaghan, then Prime Minister, described him as "one of the greatest sons of Wales. We honour the memory of Jim Griffiths of Ammanford. I mention his birth place because, despite all his honours and journeyings, it was the place of his birth, deep in the heart of Wales, that essentially shaped his life and actions."
 


 

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