James, or Jim Larkin was an activist who left his mark on labor and fair employment rights in Ireland in the early 1900s. He had an unusual history marked by multiple great achievements and great failures.
But at the end of it all, Larkin won the rights for thousands or Irish men to work and be protected by a union regardless of their skill level.
Jim Larkin was born on January 21, 1876 in Liverpool, England. His family was very poor and he received little education. Growing up, Larking earned money by doing manual labor, specifically at the docks in Liverpool where he became with familiar with unfair working conditions for the Irish. Read more: Jim Larkin | Wikipedia and Jim Larkin – Biography
Less than 10% of Irish workers were part of any unions and the unions that were available to them were British-based.
In 1905, at the age of 29, Larkin became a full-time member and trade union organizer for the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL). His peers, however, did not like his strike methods so he was transferred to Dublin after two years.
In Dublin, he founded the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU), where he would lead thousands of Irish workers to strike, earn fair working conditions, and establish Irish-based unions.
In 1912, Jim Larkin joined forces with James Connolly to form the Irish Labour Party. Together, they lead multiple strikes, the most effective being the 1913 Dublin Lockout. Over 100,000 Irish workers went on strike for seven months where they won the rights to fair employment for themselves regardless of skill level.
A year later, Larkin would travel to America to raise funds for the Irish to defend themselves against the British. But after just a few years, he was arrested, convicted of communism, and deported back to Ireland. When he returned to Ireland, Larkin quickly lost the support of ITGWU to William O’Brien.
In anger and frustration, Larkin, with the help of his son and brother, formed a new communist Irish Union called WUI (Worker’s Union of Ireland). This would result in a civil war between trade unionism in Dublin that would last until the 1960s.
Although Jim Larkin had his struggles, rapidly won support and lost it, and used means that many disagreed with, he truly made a positive impact on Irish labour. He enabled thousands of labourers to receive fair rights and working conditions when they had been severely oppressed.