As a boy
Macdonald had received virtually no formal education, but in
his twenties he began attending evening classes where he learnt
Latin and Greek. He also took an interest in politics and carefully
followed the career of Richard Oastler and his campaign against
was one of the leaders of the 1842 Lanarkshire mining strike
and after its defeat he lost his job. Macdonald found work in
another colliery and was able to save enough money to attend
winter sessions for students at Glasgow University. Every summer
he returned to the pits until he had enough money for the next
stage of his education.
opened his own school in 1851 but after four years decided to
concentrate his efforts in improving the pay and conditions
of mine workers. In 1855 Macdonald formed the Coal and Iron
Miners' Association and the following year the organisation
fought a severe cut in wages. After a three month strike, the
miners were starved back to work and had to accept the lower
wages offered to them.
by this failure, Macdonald continued to recruit members to his
union. At a meeting in Leeds in November 1863, workers formed
the Miners' National Association. Macdonald was elected president
and over the next few years the organisation had many successes
including the passing of the 1872 Mines Act.
Alexander Macdonald was a member of the Royal Commission on
Trade Unions and the following year he was invited to stand
as the Lib-Lab candidate for Stafford in the 1874 General Election.
Macdonald won the seat and joined Thomas Burt as the first working-class
members of the House of Commons.
Macdonald tended to concentrate on trade union matters but he
was also a strong supporter of Irish Home Rule. Macdonald's
views became more moderate and some socialists, such as Karl
Marx and Fredrich Engels, criticised him for his close relationship
with Benjamin Disraeli and the Conservative Party.
Macdonald was re-elected for Stafford in the 1880 General Election
but died the following year on 31st October 1881.