James Larkin: Champion of the Working Man

Born in Liverpool, England on January 21, 1876, James Larkin was a famed Irish labor activist. Growing up in the slums of Liverpool, Larkin had very little formal education.

He had to work several jobs to supplement the family’s income. Eventually he became the foreman of the Liverpool docks, joining the National Union Of Dock Labourers. In 1903, he married Elizabeth Brown. The couple later had four sons.

He was transferred to Dublin in 1907 due to the National Union of Dock Labourers being uneasy with his radical strike methods. There, he founded the Irish Transportation and General Workers’ Union. It would eventually become the largest organization of its kind in the entire region. The ITGWU can be seen as the birth of the Irish Labour movement.

When the union was formed, less than one tenth of all Irish workers were not in a union, and most of the workers who were in unions were in British-based organizations. Many in Dublin felt ignored by these British unions, and Larkin felt that labour should be international.

He later formed the Irish Labour Party and led several strikes. The most historically significant of these strikes was the Dublin Lockout in 1913, where more than 100,000 laborers went on strike for eight months. Unfortunately, the Irish Transportation and General Workers’ Union would fall apart after the Dublin Lockout. Read more: James Larkin | Biography and The Definite Biography of Big Jim Larkin – Irish Examiner

At the beginning of the First World War, Larkin staged anti-war demonstrations in Dublin. In 1914, James Larkin would travel to the United States in order to raise funds to fight the British.

In 1920 Larkin was convicted of criminal anarchy and communism. Three years later he was pardoned and deported back to Dublin. There, he organized the Workers’ Union of Ireland and gained recognition from Communist International in 1924.

Larkin continued his work in labor organizing well into the 1940’s. In 1946, while supervising repairs to the Workers’ Union of Ireland’s Thomas Ashe Hall, Larkin fell through the floor. He died in the Meath Hospital on January 30, 1947. He is still remembered for his efforts in establishing and pushing the labour movement forward.