Keir Hardie

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James Keir Hardie
James Keir Hardie by John Furley Lewis, 1902.jpg
Leader of the Labour Party
In office
17 January 1906 – 22 January 1908
Preceded by New office
Succeeded by Arthur Henderson
Member of Parliament
for Merthyr Tydfil
In office
24 October 1900 – 26 September 1915
Serving with Edgar Rees Jones
Preceded by William Pritchard Morgan
Succeeded by Charles Stanton
Member of Parliament
for West Ham South
In office
26 July 1892 – 7 August 1895
Preceded by George Banes
Succeeded by George Banes
Personal details
Born James Keir Hardie
15 August 1856
Newhouse, Lanarkshire, Scotland
Died 26 September 1915(1915-09-26) (aged 59)
Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland
Nationality Scottish
Political party Labour
Other political
Independent Labour Party
Spouse(s) Lillias Balfour Wilson
Children 4
Religion Evangelical Union (Scotland)

James Keir Hardie (15 August 1856 – 26 September 1915) was a Scottish socialist and the first Labour Member of Parliament.

Hardie started work at the age of seven, but was rigorously educated at home by his parents, and later attended night school. Working in the mines, he soon became a full-time trade union organiser. His leadership of the failed Ayrshire miners’ strike of 1881 made such an impact on the mine-owners that they granted important concessions for fear of future industrial action.

Having won the parliamentary seat of West Ham South as an independent candidate in 1892, he helped to form the Independent Labour Party (ILP) the following year. In 1900 he helped to form the union-based Labour Representation Committee, soon renamed the Labour Party, with which the ILP later merged. Hardie was also a lay preacher and temperance campaigner, who supported votes for women, self-rule for India, home-rule for Scotland, and an end to segregation in South Africa. At the outbreak of World War I, he tried to organise a pacifist general strike, but died soon afterwards.

Early life

James Keir Hardie was born on 15 August 1856 in a two-roomed cottage on the western edge of Newhouse, North Lanarkshire, near Holytown, a small town close to Motherwell in Scotland. His mother, Mary Keir, was a domestic servant and his stepfather, David Hardie, was a ship's carpenter.[1] (He had little or no contact with his natural father, a Lanarkshire miner named William Aitken.)[2] The growing family soon moved to the shipbuilding burgh of Govan near 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 practising his trade at sea — never an easy proposition given the boom-and-bust cycle of the industry.[3]

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.[4] A series of low-paying entry-level jobs followed for the boy, including work as an apprentice in a 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 shillings and 6 pence a week.[5]

A great lockout of the Clydeside shipworkers took place in which the unionised 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' meagre 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 late. In desperation, his father returned to work at sea, while his mother moved from Glasgow to Newarthill, where her mother still lived.[6]

At the age of 10 years, Hardie went to work in the mines as a "trapper" — opening and closing a door for a 10-hour shift in order to maintain the air supply for miners in a given section.[7] Hardie also began to attend night school in Holytown at this time.[8]

Hardie's father returned from the 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.[9]

"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 becoming a member of the Evangelical Union Church, Park Street, Hamilton - now the United Reformed Church, Hamilton[10] (which also incorporates St. James' Congregational Church, attended by the young David Livingstone, the future famous missionary explorer), and to participate in the Temperance movement.[11] 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 chairman 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 from working in the local mining industry.

Union leader

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 owners combined to force a reduction of wages,[12] which had the effect of spurring the demand for unionisation. Huge meetings were held weekly at Hamilton as mine workers joined together to vent their grievances. 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.[13] 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.[12]

On 16 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.[14] Hardie was 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. The 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.[14] 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.

While the Lanarkshire mine strike was a failure, Hardie's energy and activity shone and he accepted a call from Ayrshire to relocate there to organise the local miners.[14] 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.[15]

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.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18]

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 £75 per year.[19]

In 1887, Hardie launched a new publication called The Miner.

Scottish Labour Party

Portrait of J. Keir Hardie painted in 1893 by Scottish artist John Henry Dobson.

Hardie was a dedicated Georgist for a number of years while supporting the Liberal Party, where "single tax" ideas were particularly popular.[20]

Despite his early support of the Liberal Party, Hardie became disillusioned by William Ewart Gladstone's economic policies and began to feel that the Liberals would advocate the interests of the working classes. Hardie concluded that the Liberal Party wanted the workers votes without in return the radical reform he believed to be crucial — he stood for Parliament.

In April 1888, Hardie was an independent labour candidate at the Mid Lanarkshire by-election. 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 (a different party from the 1994-created Scottish Labour Party) was formed, with Hardie becoming the party's first secretary. The party's president was Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, the first socialist MP, and later founder of the National Party of Scotland, forerunner to the Scottish National Party.

MP for West Ham South

Hardie was invited to stand in West Ham South in 1892, a working class seat in Essex (now Greater London). The Liberals decided not to field a candidate, but at the same time not to offer Hardie any assistance. Competing against the Conservative Party candidate, Hardie 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 frock coat, black silk top hat and starched wing collar that other working class MPs wore. Instead, Hardie wore a plain tweed suit, a red tie and a deerstalker. Although the deerstalker hat was the correct and matching apparel for his suit, he was nevertheless lambasted in the press, and was accused of wearing a flat cap, headgear associated with the common working man – "cloth cap in Parliament". 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.

Independent Labour Party

File:Hardie elect.jpg
An election advertisement for Keir Hardie.

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 traditionally received.

Hardie hit the headlines in 1894 when, after an explosion at the Albion colliery in Cilfynydd near 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 Edward VIII). The request was refused and Hardie made a speech attacking the monarchy, which almost predicted the nature of the future king's marriage which caused his abdication

"From his childhood onward this boy will be surrounded by sycophants and flatterers by the score—[Cries of ‘Oh, oh!’]—and will be taught to believe himself as of a superior creation. [Cries of ‘Oh, oh!’] A line will be drawn between him and the people whom he is to be called upon some day to reign over. In due course, following the precedent which has already been set, he will be sent on a tour round the world, and probably rumours of a morganatic alliance will follow—[Loud cries of ‘Oh, oh!’ and ‘Order!’]—and the end of it all will be that the country will be called upon to pay the bill. [Cries of Divide!]"[21]

This speech in the House of Commons was highly controversial and contributed to the loss of his seat in 1895.

Labour Party

A printed campaign manifesto for Hardie's bid in the 1906 General Election.

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, concerned about arresting the leader of the ILP, ordered his release.

Keir Hardie, in his evidence to the 1899 House of Commons Select Committee on emigration and immigration, argued that the Scots resented immigrants greatly and that they would want a total immigration ban. When it was pointed out to him that more people left Scotland than entered it, he replied:

'It would be much better for Scotland if those 1,500 were compelled to remain there and let the foreigners be kept out... Dr Johnson said God made Scotland for Scotchmen, and I would keep it so.' According to Hardie, the Lithuanian migrant workers in the mining industry had "filthy habits", they lived off "garlic and oil", and they were carriers of "the Black Death".

In 1900, Hardie organised a meeting of various trade unions and socialist groups and they agreed to form a Labour Representation Committee and so the Labour Party was born.

In 1900, Hardie, representing Labour, was elected as the junior MP for the dual-member constituency of Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare 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 was 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 of 1903 or Gladstone-MacDonald pact. It was engineered by Ramsay MacDonald and Herbert Gladstone (son of William Ewart Gladstone): the Liberals would not stand against Labour in 30 constituencies in the next election, in order to avoid splitting the anti-Conservative vote.

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 — resulting in a heavy defeat for the Conservative Party (then in opposition), and the landslide affirmation of the Liberals.

The 1906 General Election result was one of the biggest landslide victories in British history: the Liberals swept the Conservatives (and their Liberal Unionist allies) out of what were regarded as safe seats. Conservative leader and former Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, lost his seat, Manchester East, on a swing of over 20 percent. What would later turn out to be even more significant was the election of 29 Labour MPs.

Later career

A photograph of Keir Hardie in 1909.

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 possibly joining with the unions in a labor party.

A pacifist, Hardie was appalled by the First World War and along with socialists in other countries he tried to organise an international general strike 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 objectors. After the outbreak of war, on 4 August 1914, Hardie's spirited anti-war speeches often received opposition in the form of loud heckling.[citation needed] After a series of strokes Hardie died in hospital in Glasgow on 26 September 1915, aged 59. His friend and fellow pacifist Thomas Evan Nicholas (Niclas y Glais) delivered the funeral service.[22] He was cremated in Maryhill, Glasgow. A memorial stone in his honour is at Cumnock Cemetery Cumnock, Ayrshire, Scotland (pictured here).


Bust of James Keir Hardie, located at Aberdare
The family of James Keir Hardie

On 2 December 2006 a memorial bust of Keir Hardie was unveiled by Cynon Valley MP Ann Clwyd outside council offices in Aberdare (in his former constituency). The ceremony marked a centenary since the party's birth.

Also he 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 Britain named after him. Alan Morrison has, in turn, used the title Keir Hardie Street for his 2010 narrative long poem in which a fictitious, turn-of-the-century, working-class poet discovers a Socialist Utopia off the dreamt-up Sea-Green Line of the London Underground.[23]

One of the buildings at Swansea University is also named after him, while a main distributor road in Sunderland is named the Keir Hardie Way. The Ellen Wilkinson Estate in Wardley, East Gateshead (once in the Urban District of Felling, subsumed by Gateshead Metropolitan Borough in 1974) has Keir Hardie Avenue as its main street. Every other street is named after a Labour MP (pre 1960. The England footballer,Chris Waddle, lived in Number 1 Keir Hardie Avenue, Gateshead, between 1971 and 1983.

The Keir Hardie Estate in Canning Town (Newham, East London) is named after him as a legacy to his tenure as MP for West Ham South, Newham.[24] Keir Hardie Avenue in the town of Cleator Moor, Cumbria, has been named after him since 1942. Furthermore, an estate in the London Borough of Brent, was also named after him. Keir Hardie Crescent in Kilwinning in Scotland is also named after him. A block of apartments in Little Thurrock is named after him. There is also a Keir Hardie Street in Greenock. Ty Keir Hardie, in his constituency town of Merthyr Tydfil, housed offices for Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council and adjoins the Civic Centre on Castle Street. There is also in Merthyr Tydfil a Keir Hardie Estate with streets named after prominent early Independent Labour leaders such as Wallhead and Glasier.

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, Ed Balls, David Blunkett and Fiona Mactaggart argued the case for four Labour figures at a Guardian fringe meeting at the Labour conference 2008 in Manchester, 23 September 2008 [25]

Keir Hardie's younger half-brothers David Hardie and George Hardie and sister-in-law Agnes Hardie all became Labour Party Members of Parliament after his death.

Keir Hardie Society

On 15 August 2010 (the 154th anniversary of Hardie's birth) the Keir Hardie Society was founded at Summerlee, Museum of Scottish Industrial Life.[26] The society aims to "keep alive the ideas and promote the life and work of Keir Hardie".[27] Amongst the co-founders was Cathy Jamieson who at the time was the Member of the Scottish Parliament for the constituency of Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, which covers the area where Hardie lived most of his life.


  • Karl Marx: The Man and His Message, 1910 Hardie, K

See also


  1. William Stewart, J. Keir Hardie: A Biography. Revised Second Edition. London: Independent Labour Party Publication Department, 1925; pg. 1.
  2. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  3. Stewart, Keir Hardie, Also he is related to Cam. pp. 1-2.
  4. Stewart, J. Keir Hardie, pg. 2.
  5. Stewart, Keir Hardie, pp. 2-3.
  6. Stewart, Keir Hardie, pg. 6.
  7. Stewart, Keir Hardie, pp. 6-7.
  8. Stewart, Keir Hardie, pg. 7.
  9. Stewart, Keir Hardie, pp. 7-8.
  11. Stewart, Keir Hardie, pg. 8.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Stewart, Keir Hardie, pg. 10.
  13. Stewart, Keir Hardie, pp. 10-11.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Stewart, Keir Hardie, pg. 12.
  15. Stewart, Keir Hardie, pg. 14.
  16. Stewart, Keir Hardie, pg. 17.
  17. Stewart, Keir Hardie, pg. 19.
  18. Stewart, Keir Hardie, pp. 19-20.
  19. Stewart, Keir Hardie, pg. 21.
  20. "Socialism in England: James Keir Hardie Declares That It Is Capturing That Country". California Digital Newspaper Collection. San Francisco Call. 25 September 1895. Retrieved 4 November 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Hardie states, "I was a very enthusiastic single-taxer for a number of years."
  21. "On Royalty" Paxman,J: London, Penguin, 2006 ISBN 978-0-14-101222-3 p. 58.
  22. "Ammanford, Carmarthenshire web site". Retrieved 10 February 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Alan Morrison, Keir Hardie Street, Smokestack Books, 2010, pp. 9-42
  24. "James Kier Hardie, MP (1856-1915)". The Newham Story. 25 September 1915. Retrieved 10 February 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Griffiths, Emma (22 September 2008). "Hardie is 'greatest Labour hero'". BBC News. Retrieved 10 February 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Published on Thursday 26 August 2010 11:57 (26 August 2010). "Society launched to honour Keir Hardie - Local Headlines". Motherwell Times. Retrieved 10 February 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. James Keir Hardie (4 July 2012). "Keir Hardie Society". Retrieved 10 February 2013. External link in |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Caroline Benn, Keir Hardie. London: Hutchinson, 1992. ISBN 0-09-175343-0
  • Bob Holman Keir Hardie Labour's Greatest Hero Oxford: Lion Books, 2010. ISBN 9780745953540
  • Hughes, Emrys, Keir Hardie, Allen & Unwin, 1956. ASIN:B0006DBKFK
  • Kevin Jefferys (ed.), Leading Labour: From Keir Hardie to Tony Blair. London: I.B. Tauris, 1999. ISBN 1-86064-453-8
  • Kenneth O. Morgan, Keir Hardie, Radical and Socialist. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975. ISBN 0-297-76886-7
  • Fred Reid, Keir Hardie: The Making of a Socialist. London: Croom Helm, 1978. ISBN 0-856-64624-5
  • Kenneth O. Morgan, Labour People: Leaders and Lieutenants, Hardie to Kinnock. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987. ISBN 0-19-285270-1
  • William Stewart, J. Keir Hardie: A Biography. Introduction by J. Ramsay MacDonald. Revised Edition. London: Independent Labour Party Publication Department, 1925. View here

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Banes
Member of Parliament for West Ham South
1892 – 1895
Succeeded by
George Banes
Preceded by
William Pritchard Morgan
David Alfred Thomas
Member of Parliament for Merthyr Tydfil
With: David Alfred Thomas to 1910
Edgar Rees Jones from 1910
Succeeded by
Charles Butt Stanton
Edgar Rees Jones
Political offices
New office Chairman of the Independent Labour Party
1894 – 1900
Succeeded by
John Bruce Glasier
New office Chairman of the British Labour Party
1906 – 1908
Succeeded by
Arthur Henderson
Preceded by
William Crawford Anderson
Chairman of the Independent Labour Party
Succeeded by
Frederick William Jowett
Media offices
New office Editor of the Labour Leader
1888 – 1904
Succeeded by
John Bruce Glasier
Trade union offices
Preceded by
New position
Secretary of the Ayrshire Miners' Union
1886 – 1889
Succeeded by
Peter Muir