Labour of Love

The Story of Robert Smillie

By Torquil Cowan

Format: Paperback

The first biography of Robert Smillie, the trail-blazing Labour and Trade Union activist who has been credited with changing the social fabric of Great Britain. Born into poverty in Belfast in 1857 he became a giant in trade unionism in Britain and was a founder of the Independent Labour Party.

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Neil Wilson Publishing

Neil Wilson Publishing is a small, independent company which prides itself on being innovative and original. Under five imprints they produce a wide range of books with a Scottish flavour.

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This is the story of Robert Smiliie,MP and trailblazing trade unionist who was born into poverty in Belfast in 1857. He moved to Scotland when he was 15 to join his brother James and became a miner at 17 in Larkhall. This opened his eyes to the way miners were treated by the mine owners and he realised that strong unions and the creation of a political party to represent the working classes was desperately needed. He was secretary of the Larkhall Miners and helped form the Lanarkshire Miners' Association. He became friends with Keir Hardie and together they rose through the ranks of the Labour movement. In 1888 he was a founder of the Scottish Labour Party. A year after Hardie became an MP, Smillie helped to create the Independent Labour Party. In 1894 he became President of the Scottish Miners' Federation and played a major role in the formation of the Scottish Trades Union Congress. He was then elected to the Miners' Federation of Great Britain and was involved in the Royal Commission of Mines. He persuaded the MFGB to affiliate to the Labour Party and in 1912 he became President of the MFGB.


Throughout WWI he advocated against conscription and was determined that mining should be nationalised but following a disastrous national strike in 1920, he resigned as president of the MFGB and turned to politics becoming MP for Morpeth in 1923. He was later appointed to the Committee of Honour of Save the Children. Due to his intense workload his health failed and in 1929 he resigned as an MP. He then suffered from a degenerative mental illness and spent much time convalescing in the Crichton Royal Hospital in Dumfries where he died in 1940. Presented as a story seen through the eyes of a local journalist who interviews Smillie as he lies dying in Dumfries, this 'factional' narrative reveals the full life story of this major figure in Britain's trade union and Labour movement.

Additional Information

Additional Information

Format Paperback
Imprint Neil Wilson Publishing
Publication Date 19 Sep 2011
ISBN 9781906476618
Number of Pages 408

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Press Reviews

Robert Smillie was a real hero of the Scottish and British labour movement. I first heard about him when I was in my teens in Lanarkshire where he enjoys huge acclaim. He knew what poverty was like, he experienced the worst of mining conditions and evictions, he became a trusted leader and he was inspired by a strong sense of right and wrong. The country owes him a huge debt for the service he gave the labour movement and working people everywhere. This book recalls his achievements and his legacy. Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP

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