James Larkin was born into nothing in the slums of Liverpool England. His experience working odd jobs spurred him to become a leader in the Irish labor movement. He experienced the inequity of the labor laws in 19th century Ireland.
At the time less than 10% of irish workers were unionized. Those who were were organized into unions led by British groups. James Larkin was a believer that Irish workers should have an Irish union.
He joined the National Union of Dock Laborers and became an organizer in 1905. His methods were intense and led him to found the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. This group’s goal was to unite all Irish workers, regardless of their skill level, into one strong group.
James Larkin, in his capacity at the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU), organized multiple strikes and work stoppages. One of the most famous was the 1913 Dublin lockout. This strike saw more than 100,000 workers participate for over 7 months. In the end they won their right to fair employment.
James Larkin moved on and started a career as a public speaker throughout America in 1914. His socialist stance mixed with the rise of anti-communist sentiment in the U.S made his trip to America less than successful. He continued speaking in America until he was imprisoned during America’s ‘red scare’.
In 1923 Jim Larkin was pardoned and then deported to England. His difficult life led to declining health and he was ejected from the labor union, ITGWU, that he had begun. In response he, his son, and his brother started the Workers Union of Ireland (WUI).
This was meant to be a communist alternative to the ITGWU. The WUI took many members from the ITWGU and they struggled for dominance well into the 1960’s.
Later in his life he partially mended fences with the labor movement and took his place as an Irish legend.
James Larkin has become a folk hero to laborers from around the world. He opposed the economical tyranny with which the employers used to hold down the laborers.
Many also see him as an Irish revolutionary in their fight for dependence from England. he severed the ties that bound Irish workers to English interests. The establishment of Irish labor movements was integral in the country’s long road to freedom.