James Larkin: From a Docker to Trade Union Leader

Fondly known as Big Jim, James Larkin was an Irish unionist who carved out a name for himself within the trade union movements not only in his home country of Ireland; he was a well-known trade unionist in the United States after settling in the country in 1914. Born in Liverpool slums on 21st January 1876, Mr. Larkin started working as a manual labourer at the docks in Liverpool from a young age.

At the time, dock workers were poorly paid even though they had tasking duties and worked in very poor conditions. His experience at the docks in Liverpool ignited a strong passion in him that he pursued throughout his lifetime: better and fairer working conditions for employees especially at the docks.

Towards a Socialist Working Environment

Dissatisfied with the working conditions at the docks and spurred on by strong socialism mindset, James Larkin became a member of the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL) to further push for better working conditions for his colleagues nationally.

He had a strong passion and conviction for the cause, which saw rise through the ranks of the organization to become a full-time trade unionist. His longstanding association with Ireland started in 1905 when he became a full-time trade unionist.

However, he moved to the country in 1907 after the head office transferred him to Dublin following dissatisfaction with his organization of strikes to force employers to yield to their demands. Read more: Jim Larkin – Biography

While in Dublin, James Larkin broadened the scope of trade union movement by looking at the big picture. In order to accommodate and champion for the interests and welfare of all Irish workers, he founded the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU).

Through ITGWU, James Larkin demanded for fair payment and working conditions especially for unskilled labourers. Through several strikes, the government finally yielded to some of his demands. Much of these progresses were made in partnership with James Connolly with whom he founded the Irish Labour Party.

Following his lecture tour of the United States in 1914, he joined the labour movement in the country but was later deported on charges of being a communist. His final gift to the Irish workers before his death in 1947 was the founding of Workers’ Union of Ireland (WUI) in 1924.

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