James Keir Hardie (1856-1915), socialist and labour leader


He was born the illegitimate son of a miner in 1856. He began working as a miner in Lanarkshire aged 10 in 1866. The zeal with which he campaigned for social change was rooted in his mother's strong religious beliefs and the radical views he learned from his step-father. Hardie was an excellent speaker who did more than any man to create the British political labour movement.

During his twenties, he was active in organising strikes to oppose pay cuts. He was dismissed as an agitator in 1878. He moved to Old Cumnock in Ayrshire in 1881, took up journalism and began to work for organisation of miners campaigning for better social and working conditions. He formed a new Ayrshire Miners Union. He became successively miners' county agent for Lanarkshire and secretary for Ayrshire.

Keir Hardie was appointed Secretary of the Scottish Miners' Federation in 1886. Disillusioned with the Liberal Party he turned to Socialism and became Chairman of the newly formed Scottish Labour Party in 1888. He founded the 'Labour Leader' newspaper in 1889. His first attempt to enter Parliament as MP for Mid-Lanark failed, but in 1893 he was elected Independent Labour MP for South West Ham which he held for two years.

A key figure in the formation of the Independent Labour Party, he was Chairman between 1893 and 1900, and again between 1913 and 1915. Keir Hardie ensured that the ILP embraced the wider principles of universal social justice instead of focusing on narrow trade union interests. In 1900 he was elected MP for the Merthyr Burghs in South Wales, which he represented until his death in 1915. He was the first leader of the parliamentary Labour Party between 1906-7.

Keir Hardie maintained a home in Old Cumnock which was retained by his widow and daughter after his death.

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"Life of James Keir Hardie" by E. Hughes, 1956.