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.
Hardie was a dedicated Georgist for a number of years and a member of the Scottish Land Restoration League. It was "through the single tax" on land monopoly that Hardie gradually became a Fabian socialist. He reasoned that "whatever the idea may be, State socialism is necessary as a stage in the development of the ideal."
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.
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. (He had little or no contact with his biological father, a miner from Lanarkshire named William Aitken.) The growing family soon moved to the shipbuilding burgh of Govan near Glasgow (which wasn't incorporated into the city until 1912), where they made a life in a very difficult financial situation, with his stepfather 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.
Hardie's first job came at the very young age of seven, 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 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 four shillings and sixpence a week.