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Second City of The Empire: 1830s to 1914


Alexander Campbell

By W Hamish Fraser

Born in Kintyre, Alexander Campbell was apprenticed as a joiner in Glasgow. In 1822 he became treasurer of one of the early co-operative societies, in Bridgeton. The idea was to buy goods in bulk and to share the profits among the members of the society. He saw co-operation as an alternative to the competition of the capitalist system. In this he was influenced by the ideas of Robert Owen of New Lanark and in 1825 he became a member of the Owenite community at Orbiston, near Motherwell, whose members aimed to live together in co-operative harmony. When it collapsed in 1829, Campbell returned to Glasgow and formed the Glasgow Co-operative Society in London Street. He also believed in the importance of trade unions and, for a time in the 1830s, he was secretary of the Glasgow Trades' Committee. This committee produced a number of short-lived newspapers, the Herald to the Trades' Advocate, the Trades' Advocate, the Scottish Trades' Union Gazette and The Tradesman. Campbell contributed to all of these and was owner and editor of the last in 1833-34.

For the next few years, Campbell became what was called a social missionary, spreading the ideas of Robert Owen and co-operation throughout the country. In 1842 he joined a co-operative community near London and played an active part in many trade union and Owenite activities in the south. In 1856 he returned to Glasgow and began work as a reporter on the Glasgow Sentinel, which was partly owned by his son-in-law, William Love. It was with his encouragement that a number of trade unions came together to form the Glasgow Trades Council in 1858. At every opportunity he advocated co-operation and, in 1864, he played a major part in the launch of the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society.

He participated in the campaign to get the vote for working men (and, he hoped, for women) in 1866-67 and urged the new voters to put up a working man as a candidate. To the end of his days he remained an active campaigner for co-operation, trade unions and socialism.

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