James Larkin, also referred to as Big Jim, was a socialist and campaigner for the fair treatment of laborers. Of Irish descent, he was born in Liverpool, England in the late 1800s. Although he came from very humble beginnings, he worked odd jobs from a young age until he landed a job as a foreman at the docks.
His belief that workers weren’t dealt with equitably prompted him to join the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL) and in 1905, he was elevated to the position of full-time trade union organizer.
Jim Larkin went on to establish the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) after being reassigned to Dublin amid the NUDL’s concerns over his combative strike tactics.
Larkin wanted to include all Irish industrial workers in the newly formed union and improve working conditions for both skilled and unskilled laborers. His agenda included an eight hour workday, pensions activated upon workers’ 60th birthday and nationalization of all modes of transport.
Larkin continued with a succession of strikes after his formation of the Irish Labour Party in 1912. He used peaceful methods such as boycotting during strikes and he had many supporters; Constance Markievicz and William Butler Yeats among them.
One in particular which occurred in 1913 was very momentus and became known as the Dublin Lockout. Larkin organized upwards of 100,000 participants for the strike which lasted over seven months and they managed to make some headway for fair and just treatment of workers.
Larkin decided to travel to the United States after the Dublin Lockout and the disintegration of the ITGWU, to go on a lecture tour and to gather financing to do battle with the British.
He joined the Socialist Party of America and the Industrial Workers of the World while there. His affiliation with communism and his radical writing attracted attention and in 1920 he was jailed for anarchy and communism. He was later pardoned and deported to England. Read more: James Larkin | Biography
Upon his return, he had some difficulty readjusting but after a time, he became active with the Dublin trades council and Dublin Corporation, bringing the housing problem to the forefront. Also, he played a part in the opposition of the 1941 Trade Union Act and it was instrumental in restoring his status. He was elected Labour TD for North East Dublin two years later.
Larkin remained active and continued working for the betterment of conditions for the working class until the end of his life.
He was overseeing restorations to the Workers’ Union of Ireland’s Thomas Ashe Hall when he fell and hurt himself. He succumbed to his injuries on January 30, 1947 at the Meath Hospital in Dublin, Ireland.