Basly entered mining as a galibot (minor) at the age of twelve. After the creation of the Trade Union of the minors of Anzin in 1882, Basly became its secretary, and subsequently its president in 1891. . He became mayor of Lens in 1900, and devoted the last ten years of his life to rebuilding the city, which had been completely destroyed during First World War. He continued to serve as mayor until his death in 1928.
Rue Émile Basly is a street, named in his honor, in Avion.