James Keir Hardie, Sr.
(15 August 1856
26 September 1915),
best known as "Keir," was a Scottish socialist and labour
leader, and was the first Independent Labour Member of Parliament elected to the
the United Kingdom.
James Keir Hardie
Hardie is regarded as one of the primary
founders of the Independent
as well as the Labour
of which it later was a part.
Hardie was born 15 August 1856 in a one-roomed cottage on the
western edge of Newhouse,
North Lanarkshire, near Holytown, a small
town close to Motherwell in Scotland.
mother, Mary Keir, was a domestic
and his father, David Hardie, was a ship's carpenter
growing family soon moved to the shipbuilding district of Glasgow, where they
made a life in a very difficult financial situation, with his
father attempting to maintain continuous employment in the
shipyards rather than practicing his trade at sea â€” never an easy
proposition given the boom-and-bust cycle of the
Hardie's first job came at the early age of 7, when he was put to
work as a message boy for the Anchor Line Steamship Company. Formal
schooling henceforth became impossible, but his parents spent
evenings teaching him to read and write, skills which proved
essential for future self-education
A series of low-paying entry-level jobs followed for the boy,
including work as an apprentice
brass-fitting shop, work for a lithographer
, employment in the shipyards
heating rivets, and time spent as a message boy for a baker
for which he earned 4-1/2 shillings a
A great lockout
of the Clydeside
shipworkers took place in which the
workers were sent home for a
period of six months. With its main source of support terminated,
the family was forced to sell all its possessions for food, with
James' meager earnings the only remaining cash income. One sibling
took ill and died in the miserable conditions which followed, while
the pregnancy of his mother limited her ability to work. Making
matters worse, young James lost his job for twice going tardy. In
sheer desperation, his father returned to work at sea, while his
mother moved from Glasgow to Newarthill
where her mother still lived.
At 10 years old Hardie immediately went to work in the mines as a
"trapper" â€” opening and closing a door for a 10-hour shift in order
to maintain the air supply for miners in a given section. Hardie
also began to attend night school in Holytown at this time.
father returned from sea and went to work on a railway line being
constructed between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
When this work was completed,
the family moved to the village of Quarter, where the boy went to
work as a pony driver at the mines, later working his way into the
pits as a hewer
. He also worked for two
years above ground in the quarries
. By the
time he was 20, the boy had become a skilled practical miner.
"Keir," as he was by now called, longed for a life outside the
mines. To that end, encouraged by his mother, he had learned to
read and write in shorthand
. He also began
to associate with the Evangelical Union
participate in the Temperance
. Hardie's avocation of preaching put him before crowds
of his fellows, helping him to learn the art of public speaking
. Before long, Hardie was
looked to by other miners as a logical chair
for their meetings and spokesman for their
grievances. Mine owners began to see him as an agitator
and in fairly short order he and two
younger brothers were blacklisted
working in the local mining industry.
If Scottish mine owners had hoped to remove a potential labour
agitator from their midst by blacklisting Hardie from work in the
mines, their action proved to be a major miscalculation. The
23-year old Keir Hardie moved seamlessly from the coal mines to
union organisation work.
In May 1879, Scottish mine leaders combined to force a reduction of
wages. This, rather unsurprisingly, had the effect of spurring the
demand for unionisation. Huge meetings were held weekly at Hamilton as mine workers joined together to vent their
On 3 July 1879, Keir Hardie was appointed
Corresponding Secretary of the miners, a post which gave him
opportunity to get in touch with other representatives of the mine
workers throughout southern Scotland. Three weeks later, Hardie was
chosen by the miners as their delegate to a National Conference of
Miners to be held in Glasgow. He was appointed Miners' Agent in
August 1879 and his new career as a trade union organiser and
functionary was launched.
October 1879, Hardie attended a National Conference of miners at
Dunfermline, at which he was selected as National Secretary, a
high-sounding title which actually preceded the establishment of a
coherent national organisation by several years.
active in the strike wave which swept
the region in 1880, including a generalised strike of the mines of
Lanarkshire that summer which lasted six weeks.
fledgling union had no money, but worked to gather foodstuffs for
striking mine families, as Hardie and other union agents got local
merchants to supply goods upon promise of future payment. A soup
kitchen was kept running in Hardie's home during the course of the
strike, manned by his new wife, the former Lillie Wilson.
Lanarkshire mine strike was a failure, Hardie's energy and activity
shined and he accepted a call from Ayrshire to relocate there to organise the local
miners. The young couple moved to the town of
Cumnock, where Keir
set to work organising a union of local miners, a process which
occupied nearly a year.
In August 1881, Ayrshire miners put forward the demand for a 10
percent increase in wages, a proposition summarily refused by the
region's mine owners. Despite the lack of funds for strike pay, a
stoppage was called and a 10-week shutdown of the region's mines
ensued. This strike also was formally a failure, with miners
returning to work before their demands had been met, but not long
after the return wages were escalated across the board by the mine
owners, fearful of future labor actions.
To make ends meet, Hardie turned to journalism, starting to write
for the local newspaper, the Cumnock News,
a paper loyal
to the pro-labour Liberal Party
As part of the natural order of things, Hardie joined the Liberal
Association, in which he was active. He also continued his
temperance work as an active member of the local Good Templar's Lodge
In August 1886 Hardie's ongoing efforts to build a powerful union
of Scottish miners were rewarded when there was formed the Ayrshire Miners Union
. Hardie was
named Organising Secretary of the new union, drawing a salary of
Â£75 per year.
In 1887, Hardie launched a new publication called The
The Scottish Labour Party, MP for West Ham South and the
Despite his early support of the Liberal Party, Hardie became
disillusioned by William
's economic policies and began to feel that the
Liberals neither would nor could ever adequately represent the
. Hardie believed the
Liberal Party merely wanted the votes of the workers but that it
would not in return offer radical reform for workers â€” he
decided to run for Parliament.
In April 1888, Hardie stood as an independent labour candidate in
Mid Lanark. He finished last but he was not deterred and believed
he would enjoy more success in the future. At a public meeting in
Glasgow on 25 August 1888 the Scottish Labour Party
the same party as the modern Scottish Labour Party
) was formed,
with Hardie becoming the party's first secretary. The party's
president was Robert
, the first socialist MP, and later founder
of the National Party of
, forerunner to the Scottish National Party
was invited to stand in West Ham South
in 1892, a working class seat in Essex (now
The Liberals decided not to field a
candidate, but at the same time not to offer Hardie any assistance.
Competing against the Conservative Party
won by 5,268 votes to 4,036. On taking his seat on 3 August 1892
Hardie refused to wear the 'parliamentary uniform' of black
, black silk top hat
and starched wing
that other working class MPs wore. Instead, Hardie wore
a plain tweed suit
, a red tie and a deerstalker
. In Parliament he advocated a graduated
income tax, free schooling, pensions, the abolition of the House of
Lords and the women's right to vote.
In 1893, Hardie and others formed the Independent Labour Party
, an action
that worried the Liberals, who were afraid that the ILP might, at
some point in the future, win the working-class votes that they
hit the headlines in 1894 when, after an explosion at a colliery in
Pontypridd which killed 251 miners, he asked that a message of
condolence to the relatives of the victims be added to an address
of congratulations on the birth of a royal heir (the future
VIII). The request was refused and Hardie made a
speech attacking the monarchy, which
resulted in uproar in the House of Commons .
In 1895, he lost his seat.
Hardie spent the next five years of his life building up the Labour
movement and speaking at various public meetings; he was arrested
at a woman's suffrage
meeting in London,
but the Home Secretary
about arresting the leader of the ILP, ordered his release.
The Labour Party
In 1900, Hardie organised a meeting of various trade unions and
socialist groups and they agreed to form a Labour
, and so the Labour Party
In 1900, Hardie, representing Labour, was elected as the junior MP
for the dual-member constituency of Merthyr Tydfil and
in the South Wales Valleys, which he would represent
for the remainder of his life. Only one other Labour MP was elected
that year, but from these small beginnings the party continued to
grow, winning power in 1924.
Meanwhile the Conservative Unionist government became deeply
unpopular, and Liberal leader Henry Campbell-Bannerman
worried about possible vote-splitting across the Labour and Liberal
parties in the next election. A deal was struck in 1903, which
became known as the Lib-Lab pact
was engineered by Ramsay MacDonald
and Herbert Gladstone (son of William
): the Liberals would not stand against Labour in 30
next election, in order to avoid splitting the anti-Conservative
In 1906, the LRC changed its name to the "Labour Party". That year,
the newly established Liberal government of Sir Henry
Campbell-Bannerman called a General Election â€” resulting in
the demolition of the Conservative party (now in Opposition) and
the landslide affirmation of the Liberals.
The election result was one of the biggest landslide victories
in British history:
the Liberals swept the Conservatives (and their Liberal Unionist
allies) out of previously safe seats
Balfour himself lost his seat, Manchester
, on a swing of over 20 percent. However, what would later
turn out to be even more significant was the election of 29 Labour
In 1908, Hardie resigned as leader of the Labour Party and was
replaced by Arthur Henderson
Hardie spent the rest of his life campaigning for votes for women
and developing a closer relationship with Sylvia Pankhurst
. He also campaigned
for self-rule for India and an end
to segregation in South Africa.
During a visit to the
United States in 1909, his criticism of sectarianism
among American radicals caused
intensified debate regarding the American Socialist Party
joining with the unions in a labor
, Hardie was appalled by the
First World War
and along with
socialists in other countries he tried to organise an international
to stop the war. His
stance was not popular, even within the Labour Party, but he
continued to address anti-war demonstrations across the country and
to support conscientious
. After a series of strokes Hardie died in
hospital in Glasgow on 26
His friend and fellow pacifist Thomas Evan Nicholas
delivered the funeral service..
Keir Hardie steered the Labour movement away from what he regarded
as the damaging influence of Marxism
towards a moderate, low church and trade unionist version of
that was practical, flexible and
helped create a socialist party that, with time, has been more
electorally and politically successful than most socialist parties
Keir Hardie has de facto sainthood
inside the Labour Party and is
highly respected outside it. He also has the unusual distinction
for a significant political leader of having rarely been attacked
in print after his death.
On 2 December 2006 a memorial bust of Keir Hardie was unveiled by
MP Ann Clwyd
outside council offices
in Aberdare (in his former constituency). The ceremony marked a
centenary since the party's birth.
is still held in high esteem in his old home town of Holytown, where his childhood home is preserved for people
to view, whilst the local sports centre was named in his own honour
"The Keir Hardie Sports Centre".
There are now 40 streets
throughout the UK named after him.
the buildings at Swansea University is also named after him. While a main
distributor road in Sunderland is named the Kier Hardie Way.
In recognition of his work as a lay preacher, the Keir Hardie
Methodist Church in London bears his name.
Labour founder Keir Hardie has been voted the party's "greatest
hero" in a straw poll of delegates at the 2008 Labour Conference in
Manchester. Labour peer Lord Morgan
and Fiona Mactaggart
argued the case for four Labour figures at a Guardian fringe
meeting at the Labour conference 2008 in Manchester, September 23
- William Stewart, J. Keir Hardie: A Biography. Revised
Second Edition. London: Independent Labour Party Publication
Department, 1925; pg. 1.
- Stewart, Keir Hardie, pp. 1-2.
- Stewart, J. Keir Hardie, pg. 2.
- Stewart, Keir Hardie, pp. 2-3.
- Stewart, Keir Hardie, pg. 6.
- Stewart, Keir Hardie, pp. 6-7.
- Stewart, Keir Hardie, pg. 7.
- Stewart, Keir Hardie, pp. 7-8.
- Stewart, Keir Hardie, pg. 8.
- Stewart, Keir Hardie, pp. 8-9.
- Stewart, Keir Hardie, pg. 10.
- Stewart, Keir Hardie, pp. 10-11.
- Stewart, Keir Hardie, pg. 12.
- Stewart, Keir Hardie, pg. 14.
- Stewart, Keir Hardie, pg. 17.
- Stewart, Keir Hardie, pg. 19.
- Stewart, Keir Hardie, pp. 19-20.
- Stewart, Keir Hardie, pg. 21.
- "On Royalty" Paxman,J: London, Penguin, 2006 ISBN
- Ammanford, Carmarthenshire web site
- Hardie is 'greatest Labour hero'
- Caroline Benn, Keir
Hardie. London: Hutchinson, 1992.
- Kevin Jefferys (ed.), Leading Labour: From Keir Hardie to
Tony Blair. London: IB Taurus, 1999.
- Kenneth O. Morgan, Keir Hardie, Radical and Socialist.
London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975.
- Kenneth O. Morgan, Labour People: Leaders and Lieutenants,
Hardie to Kinnock. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.
- William Stewart, J. Keir Hardie: A Biography.
Introduction by J. Ramsay Macdonald. Revised Edition. London:
Independent Labour Party Publication Department, 1925.