Ironically, James Larkin, who would one day become one of Ireland’s most celebrated labor leaders, was not born in Ireland at all. He was born in the northwestern portion of England, around the Liverpool area. He grew up in the slums and was well acquainted with hard times, as well as hard work.
He lived a hard-scrabble existence, eking out a living working in several different occupations when he was a young man. He had very little formal training and relied on his wits and strong work ethic to overcome his lack of experience. He gradually worked his way up to the position of foreman on the rough and tumble Liverpool docks. It was on these docks that he earned his nickname, Big Jim.
Witnessing first hand, the injustices inflicted upon his fellow dock workers, Larkin joined Ireland’s Dock Workers Union in 1905. He quickly made a name for himself as a skillful strike organizer and resourceful negotiator. However, Union officials became very leery of the extremely militant tactics that Larkin employed.
They were looking for a way to deflect his intensity. In 1907, they relocated him to Dublin, where he formed a union that would become known as the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU). His intentions were to unite all of Dublin’s workers in one huge and immensely powerful labor movement. Learn more about Jim Larkin: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/big-jim-larkin-hero-or-wrecker-review-when-big-jim-looked-small-1.2524094 and http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/easterrising/profiles/po08.shtml
Larkin embraced socialism and dedicated his life to preserving workers’ rights. In 1912, Larkin went on to form the Labor Party of Ireland with other dedicated supporters, organizing several opportune strikes. His most significant endeavor was the infamous Dublin Lockout of 1913. Over 100, 000 workers participated in the strike which lasted for well over 7 months. The Transport Union fell apart after the Lockout. Read more: James Larkin | Biography and James Larkin | Wikipedia
Larkin migrated to the United States in 1914. He came to the US in hopes of becoming a public speaker and an advocate for worker’s rights. However, he was never popular in the press, because of his socialist beliefs.
During the Red Scare of 1920, he was among the many who were convicted of communism and he was imprisoned in the infamous Sing Sing prison for over 4 years.
In 1924, he was released and soon after he was deported back to Ireland. For the next 23 years Larkin worked tirelessly to improve the lives of his fellow laborers.
He truly believed that workers deserved fair wages for fair work and he did everything that he could to make sure that that they got what they deserved. Big Jim Larkin died on January 30, 1947. His legacy lives on.