Jim Larkin: A Man of the People

Well known for his activism, Jim Larkin will forever be remembered in the Irish community and from many across the world. He was a labor organizer, founded the General Workers’ Union, and coined the often-used-today phrase, ‘A fair day’s work for fair day’s pay.’ But who was Jim Larkin; where did his story begin, what did he accomplish along the way, and how did his story end?

James Larkin was born on the 21st of January, 1876 in Liverpool, England. His parents were Irish-born and the family occupied some of the shabbiest homes in the slums of the city. At the tender age of 7 Larkin began working in the afternoons to help add some supplemental income to the family’s meager means.

Jim’s father died when he was just 14, leaving him to be the main provider for his family. He began an apprenticeship, but was let go after 2 years. He became a sailor and docker shortly after, becoming a dock foreman in 1903; the same year he married his wife, Elizabeth Brown.

Beginning in 1893, Jim Larkin became interested in socialism and joined the Independent Labour Party. When the strikes began on the Liverpool docks in 1905, he was one of the few foremen to be involved.

The performance he produced during the strike caught the attention of the National Union of Dock Labourers, or NUDL. He gained a temporary organizing position through the union, which later turned into a permanent position.

Larkin took on his first Ireland trade union movement task in 1907, when he organized dock workers in Belfast for the NUDL. He unionized them, called a strike, and won their dispute after just a month. Not only did Larkin help the dockers meet their demands, but he helped bring together Catholic and Protestant workers; a hardly seen feat at the time. Learn more about Jim Larkin: http://www.historyireland.com/20th-century-contemporary-history/big-jim-larkin-hero-and-wrecker/

After a few short years a few tiffs with the NUDL, Jim Larkin found himself sentenced to prison for year, for embezzlement in 1908. It was after the expulsion from the NUDL that Jim founded the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, in 1908. Quickly, Larkin’s organization gained the attention for affiliation from the NUDL for their branches in Cork, Dublin, Sligo, and Waterford. In 1909, Jim Larkin moved his operation to Dublin, where all his focus in the future would remain.

Larkin became known for his involvement in disputes like the Sligo Dock strike, which lasted over a year and started the fire in regards to Irish labour history. Shortly after this dispute, he left for America to raise funds for the union.

Even in America he was involved with the Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World. Upon returning to Ireland in 1923, Jim Larkin was considered a hero and formed the Irish Worker League.

James Larkin spent the remainder of his years fighting for unions’ and workers’ rights. He died on the 30th of January, 1947 in his sleep. His funeral procession was viewed by thousands; a real hero for the people, until the day he died.