If you haven’t already heard of Jim Larkin, also known as “Big Jim,” he is a historical figure who gained a reputation for being a socialist who fought for fair working conditions for all workers, especially Irish industrial workers. Born in 1876 in Liverpool, England to Irish parents, Larkin had no formal education, and therefore, began his career working a series of manual labor jobs.
After meandering through a succession of menial jobs, Larkin joined Liverpool Docks, a complex of dock buildings and warehouses in Liverpool, England. After witnessing unfair practices amongst workers, Larkin later joined the NUDL (National Union of Dock Labourers), and later, became a full-time trade union organizer.
In 1907, after gaining experience in the NUDL and working as a full-time trade union organizer, Larkin moved to Dublin, where he established the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.
This endeavor proved to be very successful for Jim Larkin; in fact, the Irish Transport and General Workers Union is widely considered the impetus for the Irish labor movement. Why? Well, it was a union that was the focal point for most organizational, political, Industrial, and personnel issues relative to Irish labor at the turn of the twentieth century.
Unfortunately, the Dublin Lockout resulted in the collapse of the (ITGUW) Irish Transport and General Workers Union. If you’re unfamiliar with the Dublin Lockout, it was a major industrial dispute that caused 20,000 workers (primarily those in the ITGUW) to be “locked out” by 300 of the country’s top employers. Read more: Jim Larkin | Biography and James Larkin | Ireland Calling
After the collapse of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, Larkin went to the United States, where he participated in lectures and also, became a member of the Socialist Party of America, before being deported back to Ireland.
Upon returning to Ireland, Larkin founded the Worker’s Union of Ireland and also, became a member of Irish Labour Party. Jim Larkin’s work in the various unions that he has led earned him the moniker of fervent Marxist, a title that would follow him throughout his career.
Although he was a polarizing figure, his positive impact on labor unions is still felt today. However, his militant approach, with respect to striking, could be viewed as a cautionary tale.
After all, it was those very striking tactics that ushered in the Dublin Lockout. With that being said, Larkin’s intentions were to create an opportunity for all workers to get an honest day’s pay, for an honest day’s work. And, for that, he should be revered.
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