James Larkin: Labor Union Orginizer And Irish Hero

Irish activist, labor organizer and folk hero James Larkin was born to Irish parents in Liverpool, England in 1874. Raised in the worst slums in Liverpool, Larkin had almost no formal education. As a youth, he worked at any job he could find to help supplement the family income.

Eventually James Larkin got a job on the Liverpool docks and rose to become a foreman. He felt workers weren’t being treated fairly, so he became a member of the National Union of Dock Labourers in 1905. Soon James Larkin was a trade union organizer full time. The union quickly became alarmed with his militant strike methods and transferred him to Dublin, Ireland.

When Larkin got to Dublin in 1907, he rose to fame when he started the Irish Transport And General Workers Union(ITGWU). Its goal was to unite skilled and unskilled industrial workers into one organization. The union became the largest one in the region. In 1908, Larkin laid out the ITGWU’s political program. Read more: Jim Larkin – Biography

It included an 8 hour workday, jobs for everyone, pensions for workers over age 60, adult suffrage, as well as nationalization of railways, canals and all other means of transportation. ‘A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’ was a phrase he coined and his rallying cry.

James Larkin also started the Irish Labour Party in 1912 with James Connolly. He also led a number of strikes. They included the 1913 Dublin Lockout.

In Dublin unskilled worker had almost no rights. As a result of the strike, all Irish workers won fair employment rights. That came after over 100,000 workers remained on strike for almost 8 months. Boycotting goods and holding sympathetic strikes were the tools James ‘Big Jim’ Larkin used.

Plus he had a magnetic personality and was a powerful orator that could sweep up a crowd with his compassionate, innovative ideas. The Irish press hated Larkin and the union, but the common man loved him. Famed poet W.B. Yeats was one of his supporters. After the Dublin Lockout the ITGWU fell apart.

When World War I began, in Ireland James Larkin started organizing huge anti-war demonstrations. He implored Irishmen to stay out of the war. In 1914 Larkin visited the U.S. to lecture and raise funds to help the Irish fight the British.

While there, he became a member of the Industrial Workers of the World and the Socialist Party of America. In 1916, while Larkin was still in the U.S., his friend James Connelly died in the Easter Uprising in Ireland. In New York in 1918, Larkin founded the Socialist Club. It became a hotbed of leftist activities.

He was convicted of criminal anarchy and communism in 1920. Three years later Larkin was pardoned and deported to Ireland. He then founded the Workers’ Union of Ireland. In 1945 he joined the Irish Labor Party.

James Larkin married Elizabeth Brown in 1903 and fathered four sons with her. He dearly loved Ireland and Irish people. He died in Dublin, Ireland in 1947.