Foulkes was born in 1899 and joined the Electrical Trades
He held the position of General President, the joint leader of the ETU, for 17 years until 1961.
He was a member of the Labour Party for 15 years and an election agent in the general election of 1929 before joining the Communist Party.
The role of Foulkes was hugely significant, for the ETU was one of a few British unions that had a President (the NUM was another, notable, union with two senior posts). In the ETU, the role of the General President was largely to oversee negotiations, whereas the General Secretary was more of an internal administrator. In many ways, it made the ETU President arguably a more significant figure for ordinary union members, concerned as they were about wages and conditions of employment.
Foulkes had led a major dispute in the contracting industry in 1954 that was so significant that it even brought him to international attention. For two weeks a guerrilla campaign ensued; then 35,000 employees of private contractors were brought out for a one-day strike, halting some construction work (among other things) at six of Britain's eight atomic establishments. Employers retaliated by giving every striker a "one-day unpaid unholiday" the following day, effectively locking them out. In return, Foulkes called out 7.000 electricians in the
He was accused by Justice Winn at the trial in the infamous ballot-rigging affair of being in a position where he should have known of any fraud, even though he did not! Finally leaving the post of General President in 1962 on early retirement, the incoming right wing leadership could not even leave the man to go peacefully. After initially claiming a “humanitarian” outlook towards Foulkes’ pension, a long-running vendetta emerged to deny him of this.