Self-educated, he spent the greater part of his early life as a labourer and developed a first-hand knowledge of their expectations and needs. In 1912, he became an organiser of the Workers’ Union, and quickly realised what he was up against. No national agreement determined labourers hours or wages which, at the time stood at a paltry 70 pence a week, in new money, having risen the equivalent of only two pence in the preceding 11 years. Sydney took it upon himself to organise meetings at Ledbury and Bromyard, and, as a result, the Herefordshire Agricultural Workers’ Union was formed.
In December 1918 Sydney's supporters put him forward as the Labour Party candidate for the Hereford Division following his efforts to establish the party within the county during 1917. Although he was defeated, he received nearly 4,000 votes for a programme that included the establishment of the National Health Service, equality of educational opportunity, public ownership of the land and an end to sex discrimination.
Labour Representation CommitteeIn 1899, a Doncaster member of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, Thomas R. Steels, proposed in his union branch that the Trade Union Congress call a special conference to bring together all left-wing organisations and form them into a single body that would sponsor Parliamentary candidates. The motion was passed at all stages by the TUC, and the proposed conference was held at the Memorial Hall on Farringdon Street on 26 and 27 February 1900. The meeting was attended by a broad spectrum of working-class and left-wing organisations — trades unions represented about one third of the membership of the TUC delegates.
After a debate, the 129 delegates passed Hardie's motion to establish "a distinct Labour group in Parliament, who shall have their own whips, and agree upon their policy, which must embrace a readiness to cooperate with any party which for the time being may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interests of labour." This created an association called the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), meant to coordinate attempts to support MPs sponsored by trade unions and represent the working-class population. It had no single leader, and in the absence of one, the Independent Labour Party nominee Ramsay MacDonald was elected as Secretary. He had the difficult task of keeping the various strands of opinions in the LRC united. The October 1900 "Khaki election" came too soon for the new party to campaign effectively; total expenses for the election only came to £33. Only 15 candidatures were sponsored, but two were successful; Keir Hardie in Merthyr Tydfil and Richard Bell in Derby.