For many years, Kean was an active trade unionist, based in Manchester. In 1908, he began representing the Manchester and Salford Trades Council on the Manchester Education Committee, and in later years he also served as the council's president.
From 1909, Kean was leader of the small Amalgamated Union of Engravers to Calico Printers and Paper Stainers. In 1917, he founded the Wallpaper Stainers' Trade Union Federation, which also included the Amalgamated Society of Machine Paper Stainers and Colour Mixers of Great Britain and the Paper Stainers' Union of General Workers. Kean persuaded the two to join with those members of his union involved in the manufacture of wallpaper in forming a new Wallpaper Workers' Union.
Kean decided to focus on the wallpaper industry, and resigned from the Engravers in 1920; he was elected as the first general secretary of the Wallpaper Workers' Union. Under his leadership, the union established the Wallpaper Makers' Industrial Council, which focused on negotiations with employers, and the avoidance of industrial action. He represented the union to the General Federation of Trade Unions, serving on its management council for twelve years, and as chair of the federation from 1930 to 1932.
Kean retired as leader of the Wallpaper Workers' Union in 1935, becoming the superintendent of the Wallpaper Trade Convalescent and Holiday Home. He remained active on the Manchester Education Committee until shortly before his death, early in 1944.
- 1939 England and Wales Register
- England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, 1973-1995
- "Obituary: Mr Charles Kean". Manchester Guardian. 18 January 1944.
- "Obituary: Mr Charles Kean, OBE". Report of the Annual Trades Union Congress: 191. 1944.
- Marsh, Arthur; Smethurst, John B. Historical Directory of Trade Unions. 5. pp. 65, 78–79.
- "Mr Charles Kean, JP". General Federation of Trade Unions Annual Report: 14. 1944.
|Trade union offices|
| General Secretary of the Amalgamated Union of Engravers to Calico Printers and Paper Stainers
| Chair of the General Federation of Trade Unions
| General Secretary of the Wallpaper Workers' Union