Born on January 28, 1874, in Liverpool, James Larkin or Jim would grow up to be one of the most influential union leaders. With little education and coming from a home with limited resources, Jim would work hard for his family performing a variety of jobs while growing up. He eventually landed a position as a foreman working at the docks in Liverpool.
Jim was well-known for being a socialist who focused primarily on workers and their rights. By 1905 he became a full-time trade union organizer after joining the National Union of Dock Labourers. In 1907, he was transferred to Dublin. He then founded the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union or ITGWU. Jim was interested in bringing together skilled and unskilled laborers in Ireland. This work would eventually lead to him forming the Irish Labour Party.
Larkin is best known for the 1913 Dublin Lockout. This would consist of over 100,000 workers going on strike and doing so for nearly 8 months. This would result in the Party winning fair employment rights.
After this, Larkin moved to the United States in 1914. He was now focused on becoming a speaker and raising money to fight the British. He joined the Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World.
From 1915-1917, he had been funded by the Germans who were asking him to rattle the pro-Allied US munitions industry. In Ireland, in 1916, the Easter Rising took place and his friend James Connolly died. By 1919, he was more radicalized and began supporting The Soviet Union.
He would also have many ties to the American Communist Party. He would eventually find himself the target of The United States and was arrested as the result of America’s first red-scare.
It would not be until 1923 that James Larkin would be pardoned and then shipped back over to Ireland. He would have some difficult years ahead of him.
His wife Elizabeth had split from him. He would move in with his sister and the ITGWU was being run by others. He had lashed out and was eventually was given an expulsion in 1924.
1924 would be the year he formed the communist Workers’ Union of Ireland. By the 1930s it’s reported that James Larkin had begun to move more to the center.
It wouldn’t be till the 1940s that Larkin would grow softer, more mellow. He did remain active in the Dublin trades council and would eventually gain some respect. This would lead to him being elected Labour TD for North East Dublin in 1943.
Jim remained active until the end, passing on 30th of January in 1947. He is remembered as a man who revolutionized trade unionism.
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